Monday, October 31, 2011

Bento, Cults and Seiza

Okay, get ready, this is a doozy.

A few weeks ago I was browsing the video games section at my local Tsutaya, which is like a Blockbuster or Bookman's for those of you in AZ. I was really pissed off at this time, because I had just a terrible experience with their customer service. Basically, I stood at this dude's desk, the trade-in desk, waiting for him to look up at me so I could sell my games back to the store. I waited there for about 10 minutes but he ignored me. I got in the regular line, told the lady I wanted to sell my games, and she pointed me back toward the trade-in desk.

Now sure I was in the right place, I walked back over the the ignorer. I put the games I wanted to sell ever so softly right on top of whatever work related manual he was reading. He finally looked up at me. I said to him, in Japanese, “I would like to sell these games” and added a few English curse words on the end. He made like a 13 year old told to clean his room and went through with the transaction.

I made my way to games section and was browsing for some 3DS games, still fuming mad from the previous “altercation”. I was debating whether it was racism, a bad employee, or if he was just having a bad day. Anyway, I was leaning toward racism and deciding whether or not I should hate everyone in Japan because of one idiot video shop employee. Yeah, it was bad.

After a few minutes, this young guy approached me. He was smiling and asking me about what games I like to play. He recommended me a few games after I told him I like puzzle games. We got to chatting about why I was in Japan, and why he was in Ichihara. It was awesome, he put up with my terrible Japanese and my faith in the friendliness of Japanese people was fully restored. Anyway, we exchanged phone numbers and decided to go a Izakaya (Japanese pub) the following weekend.

The next weekend, I was in Yokohama and I avoided his phone calls because I didn't want to cancel. He called me 8 times...okay I thought kind of strange, but maybe this dude doesn't have any friends. Or he is liberal with his phone calls. I finally called him back and told him sorry, and next weekend. Next weekend, he calls twice and I pick up finally. We decide to meet at 7:30 Saturday night.

I met him at the station, and we walked to his car. On the way, he told me he picked up his friend, too. Cool, I thought, always great to meet new people. We get to his car, and I notice that it is a really nice white Lexus, or Infiniti type Sedan. This dude told me he paints petroleum holding tanks for a living. He must be good at saving. Well, we get in and were off. This is where things get strange.

“We're going to a bento shop”, he stated

“Oh, okay, no Izakaya then?”, I ask

“No, this place is really good though”, he replies.

I've been in Japan long enough to know that nobody goes to Bento shops at 7:30 on Saturday night. Bento is basically a Japanese lunch set in a little box, usually to be taken and eaten somewhere. I keep prying about this Bento shop to get more info, but all he tells me is that this place is really special and that there are lots of young people and girls there. Alright, cool, I think, maybe this is some type of bento restaurant I've never heard of.

“Oh, and it's in Hon-Chiba, is that okay?”, he asks

At this point I'm thinking, no its not okay to drive 30 minutes for a bento on Saturday night, but I play along.

“Yeah, I'm really looking forward to this place”, I lie. So we make our way, talking about the usual stuff. Music, food, movies, normal stuff.

We arrive in Hon-Chiba, park, and get out to walk. We are close to the station and make note of it in case I need make an emergency dash for my life. I begin to size up my situation. I weigh more than both the Japanese guys combined, and of them seems to have a breathing problem so I'm not too worried about a fight. We are on main streets and there are people around. Okay no problems yet.

Finally we arrive at the “Bento shop”. It looks something like a soup kitchen for the homeless, and the food looks really good. They have curry, spaghetti, all types of rice balls, drinks, basically something for everybody. All the food is being made by people right behind the cash registers (as opposed to standard machine made bento).

We pick out some stuff, and head upstairs. I tell the guys about how this place reminds me of a YMCA. Little did I know, I was slowly unraveling the mystery myself. I was actually quite happy to find a place like that. The food was cheap, and clean. There were lots of people around of all ages, it was close to station and friendly. People were playing cards, and games together. Awesome.

Well, we eat and then as we finish, I start to wonder, what's next? What do we do after Bento on Saturday night? Go drinking? Game center? I ask my new friend and he starts to tell me this really long story about how he was lonely and depressed when he moved to Chiba. It sounds like he's told it before. I start to feel like I'm not really there for a food and libations. The other guy chimes in with a snort now and then, because of his breathing problem and adds some info. Another guy comes to our table who speaks English. He is carrying a folder. He translates some of my new friends story for me and agrees with what he says just like the snorting guy. I'm getting a little suspicious now. Finally my new friend tells about this prayer that has really given him power in his life.

“Holy shit”, I think to myself “I got lured into some psycho cult headquarters.”

They keep going on and on about how great this place is, and I just sit there and turn to stone. Actually, it reminded me of when I was in Hebrew school as a boy. On year, we went to visit all the different denominations of religions around our temple. We went to Catholic mass, the Muslim service and Baptist or Presbyterian services as well. It was really interesting for me to see how other people pray and do their thing, so I figured this was an extension of that.

These guys eventually present me with some kind of prayer beads, and little book of prayers. “Rad, some new souvenirs with a great story”, is all I can think of when he hands them to me. They ask me to come pray with them. “Sure”, I say, let's see how far the rabbit hole goes.

We enter a building next door with and nod to a security guard. It's weird whenever you enter a church, no matter what the faith, the always smell the same. This place had that smell. They sign me up and fill out a form with a fake address. In Kanji. Yeah I'm smooth like that.

We head up stairs and I hear some chanting and drum beats. I get really scared all the sudden. Are they going to rub pigs blood on me? Will they electrocute me? I had this sudden realization that while I might have been able to fight off two guys outside, I was now in the ant's nest and would certainly be overtaken. That is not the type of feeling you should have a house of worship, in my opinion.

Before we enter a room, the guy asks me if I can sit Seiza style. This is a traditional Japanese style of sitting respectfully with your legs folded underneath your ass. It is actually quite difficult, but I have been practicing. I tell him its no problem. “If I get some magical power from this prayer, why would you be worried about me sitting seiza style?”, is all I can think of as we enter the room. The room is all Tatami, or straw mat, and there is a small alter in the front of the room. The guys motion for me to sit front and center, the get the full effect of the prayer power. I abide. I look around and notice there all sorts of people in the room. Young women, old men, nerds, athletic looking types, salary-men with suits. They are all chanting this prayer rhythmically with a drum beat project from a very expensive Bose PA system. Occasionally they go down for a deep bow. We sit and wait for that prayer session to end.

After the session ends, a woman enters the room and begins to conduct a service. She enters very slowly and bows about 300 times before sitting before the alter and hitting a bell. My friend gives me some paper with the prayer written out in Romaji (the style of writing Japanese with English letters) so I can read it. Mother of god, this is going to take forever. Its like 6 pages, with repeat sections. I am in for the long haul.

We get to praying. She hits the bell, we repeat some stuff, we bow, she bows we chant loud, we whisper chant, she hits the bell some more, we are silent, we are loud. Basic prayer stuff, all the while I'm noticing my Seiza abilities were greatly over estimated. My legs begin to lock up and go numb. But, I'm trying to actually pretend like I give shit about this prayer thing so I just tough it out. After about 30 minutes everybody else leaves and there are only 5 people left. Me and my two captors, and another guy with the same folder, prayer beads, and fake friend, as me. The lady turns to us and goes on and on about lots of things I can't understand, which I am glad because I see the other newbie slump visibly and get emotional at a few things that she says. I suddenly felt terribly sorry for all the people in this place. Not just in my room, but everyone in the cult. I can see how people fall for this stuff...they have nothing in life, they are depressed and don't belong. They come to this place and feel like they are a part of something. They feel like they are doing good, and good will come to them. It was heartbreaking. It's strange how the two reactions I had to this place were fear and heartbreak; is that how cults get people to join? I sure as shit was never coming back to this place, no matter how good the bento.

That's when I happened. I felt God. I tried to stand up and my legs were utterly dead from the Seiza. All the blood rushed in all directions in my body and I nearly passed out. It was so utterly painful, yet euphoric at the same time, like removing a splinter. I couldn't walk. I did my own strange prayer dance I tried to stand, crouched, fell over, stretched my legs, finally got up and realized that Seiza, my own body, was my god, and that he could bitch slap me back to reality at anytime by cutting off circulation to my legs. Wow, standing up from Seiza was one of the most painful, pleasurable and futile things I have ever done. Try it.

After we leave, the building, I notice people standing around out side the building, doing normal people things. Talking about work, what they are doing tomorrow, their kids, whatever. They are normal people just like me. This is their hobby, this makes them happy and they are happy people. They are all weird, and in my opinion weak minded, but everyone I met was friendly, and generally wanted to help their fellow human. What a strange place.

My friends offer to drive me home. I decline and take the train. I quickly changed both of their names in my phone to CULT GUY 1 and CULT GUY 2.

Friday, September 30, 2011


To my minions of faithful fans:
I am truly sorry it has been so long since my last update. I was quite shaken up (no pun intended) and didn't feel like writing. But don't, worry, I have been eating. I have loads (read: 2-3) of good articles coming for you in the future. Thanks for all your support/motherly nagging to get me writing again too. I decided to go all out with my first post after my hiatus and tackle a challenge I have struggled with for over a year. Enjoy.


Aahhhh.....Oden.....This is a tough one. Let's begin our journey with a bit of nomenclature, shall we? There are many types of foods in Japan that fail to fall into one category or another...the largest being (or not being?) is the 'soups'. I call them soups much to the chagrin of all my Japanese friends and cohorts. Why? Because for me, a soup is an edible liquid with other edible food stuffs inside. But this definition doesn't work well for Japanese food because there are a bunch of soups that clearly aren't soup. Oden is one. Nimono is another, as well as Nabe. One of my students called them 'cauldron food' one time. I think this is absolutely the best term for these soups. But I will continue to say soup because I'm American, so I'm right.

As my father is famous for saying 'I don't much like soup, but this is good' I have taken a lovehate relationship with soups. I was conditioned from a young age to not like soup....even though it is good. Yeah, that's right. And so begins my journey with Oden.

My first experience with Oden didn't even include eating it. I remember clearly that cold autumn day in Fukushima when I first walked in the finest Oden purveyor in the land (7eleven) and smelled something fishy. Was it fishy? Was it sweaty? What the hell was that smell? It actually smells like a live fish, sweating away his hangover in steam room while reading a newspaper and occasionally ringing out the towel that he is sitting on top of. Yeah, one of those really thin, free towels they give you at the hot springs that are easy to extract about a liter of liquid from. Add the smell of wet newspaper and warm soy sauce (everything smells like warm soy sauce in Japan) and you have Oden broth. I'm 100% certain that is the exact recipe for 7eleven Oden broth. This olfactory odeon is heightened by the fact that the door to 7eleven is closed, the heater is on full blast, and the air is 'moisty' compared to the dry outside winter.

Then I saw it. I couldn't believe my eyes. What the fuck is that sitting next to the cash register?! Its like a huge hot tub of unwanted and indescribable foodstuffs. I see a hot dog...some kind of tofu, weird tentacles, skewers (?) on them, weird grey noodles, white triangles, dinosaur eggs, dark matter and little satchels which can only contain some type of bullion. This is all just sitting there, staring at me from next to the cash register, almost painful in its stillness. It isn't boiling, it's not even's just sitting there looking unappetizing and smelling like a sweaty fish. Of course, the cauldron contraption is decked out with some wacky paper decorations to make it look like a food cart outside on the street, but you're not fooling me. It's sitting next to cash register in the supernova like glare of 7eleven fluorescent lights. It makes me want to hurl. I try to look away but the little hot dogs wrapped up in soggy bread are staring right back at me like a million little eyes and I swear I saw that octopus tentacle move. At this point, I seriously hate Oden.

This mindset continued for about a year. I would occasionally spit in the Oden hot tub when the cashier wasn't looking. I hated people for eating it. I hated it for existing. When people asked me what type of Japanese food I hated, I would say Oden before Natto. Yeah, that is hardcore, I know, but I really despised this stuff. After a while, I got used to the knock you on your ass smell when I opened the door to the glorious convenience store, and I even won a few staring contests with the hot dogs wrapped in soggy bread. I came to not notice Oden, and basically ceased to acknowledge its existence. Just like the homeless. I had won the battle and I would never be bothered by Oden again.

Then it happened. My girlfriend came over to my house one day. “I'll pick up some dinner for us” she said all innocent and cute. She walked in the door a few minutes later with a brown plastic bag containing a large Styrofoam bucket of sorts. Now, I must tell you, I am well versed in every single item available at the convenience store, and I had never seen of these containers before. I began to worry. “I brought Oden” she said nonchalantly, setting the bag down on the table. My mind began to race.....shit shit shit what do I do, what do I mind flashed back to a story one of my friends told me about men using a certain Oden delicacy, called konyaku as an aid for masturbation. It's cylindrical shaped tofu like substance of unknown origin, which is quite soft, yet firm, pliable, yet tough. “You just cut a hole in the middle....and you know...” he said also nonchalantly while moving his hand back and forth.

My skin broke out into a cold sweat. What if she had bought Konyaku?! Maybe the clerk had seen me spit into hot tub and decided to get back at me. Maybe my girlfriend wasn't really that, and just a secret agent trying to get me eat Oden tainted with tentacles and masturbation foodstuffs. Finally, in my moment of terror, I had an epiphany. I should just man-up and eat it. There must be reason why its available EVERYWHERE. Oden is more readily available than rice, sushi, gyudon (aka beef bowl), ramen, or any other Japanese food you can think of.

Do you like Oden?” she asked as she gathered up a few bowls and began to peel back the plastic lid.

Stifling my fear and I lied: “Yeah, it's alright. Cheap and healthy.”

She grunted with approval. Whew, dodged that bullet.

She passed me a bowl with a bunch of weird grey noodles, a big slab of daikon radish and a meatball type thing. All very identifiable and surprisingly good looking. She handed me a small dish with a few types of sauce on it. Chinese mustard, something green and something brown.

What's this?” I sneakily asked, “I usually don't have sauce with Oden”

This is yuzu goshyo and this is sweet miso”

I was suddenly hungry. She uttered the magic word that makes me want to eat anything associated with it: yuzu. Much like the avocado, I will generally order any food, or be satisfied with anything even remotely connected to yuzu, the small tangy Japanese citrus. And sweet miso?! How had I been missing out on that for so long?

I watched her intently. A little yuzu, and a little mustard on the daikon, and down the hatch. She smiled and watched TV, munching happily, oblivious to the emotional and digestive roller coaster I was about to embark upon. Finally I tried. Fucking delicious. Seriously delicious. The sweaty fish smell was all but gone, and the broth was so light, it was almost like some type of fantastic seawater consommé. The daikon had become this amazing texture almost like an overcooked potato; just strong enough to fight my chopsticks, but a pleasure to bite through. Daikon is one those foods that just tastes enough like nothing to be delicious, too. Much like jicama or button mushrooms. Awesome. Next up were the noodles.

What are these?”, I asked.

Konyaku”, she mumbled while chewing.

I tried them reluctantly, surprised that they had somehow taken the form of noodles. Springy and chewy. Almost no flavor at all. Just like the daikon. Awesome. I coated them in Chinese mustard and pleasurably destroyed my sinuses. Yummy. Next the meat ball.

And this?”, I asked holding up my chopsticks.

Fish”, she replied.

No surprise there. Tasted exactly like the daikon and the noodles. Everything tasted the same. Just enough flavor to be pleasant, but not enough to be powerful. Oden is all about texture.

I fished off my floating food and drank the broth like the last beer on earth. I was satisfied.

That was awesome, thank you!”, I said.

She glanced at me sideways. I had clearly overdone the praise for such a simple fare. And that's exactly what I learned about is one of those foods that transcends food. Like soba, or pho, or (real) tacos, or the hot-dog, or crepes, it crosses the boundary of 'good' food and is just food. It tastes like whatever sauce you put on it. If you want it to taste like nothing, it will. If you just want something hot and cheap and healthy, it will never let you down. That's why it is right next to the cash register. That's why it's available everywhere. Now, whenever I open the door to 7eleven, and that Oden stank hits me in the face, I get hungry. I see all those weird offerings, floating like turds in a pool, and wonder what they will taste like. There are literally 30 things in that glorious hot tub and I'm certain they all taste awesomely like nothing. Go try it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


“Do you want to come to a BBQ?”, my manager asked. “Me and my boyfriend will BBQ this Sunday, you should come!” she added

“Sure, I love BBQ'ing. Just tell me when and where. I'll be there.” I replied.

“Well it's a special kind of BBQ. We go to forest and looking for bamboo...then cut...”,she stopped short. Her English was not up to task to explain. Still, I was quite interested in this whole 'forest bamboo chopping thing' so I committed.

I heard her go on to explain some of the specifics to our bilingual speaker in the shoe factory (my place of work now for almost 1 year!). Of course, we have a bilingual sales representative, and she attempted to ask our Manager what was involved. After her explanation, the two made plans when and where to meet. The manager left, and I was with the bilingual speaker.

“So, what did she say? I didn't really catch that 'bamboo forest' part” I pried.

“Actually”, she pondered, “neither did I. But she did say wear old, dirty clothes and some type of hiking shoes. We have to hunt and chop bamboo.”

“Whhhatttt? She explained in two languages, and we still don't know what's happening?”

“I guess not, but I'm still going to go, and you should too”, she said.

“Of course I'll go, but let me ask you one thing and answer honestly” I looked over my shoulder, “are you going just because the boss invited you, or do you really want to go?” I semi-whispered.

“I truly and honestly want to go; because the boss invited me” she giggled and walked away.

I was left standing there knowing little more than bamboo, forest, chopping and BBQ. Hey I guess if there was beer involved, I would be happy.

Later on that day, I saw my manager as she was making her rounds.

“What time does the BBQ start?”, I asked.

“Uh, I'll pick you up at the station at 9:30 am”

“Oh, uh, really? That early, huh? Okay, I'll be there” I replied without much confidence.

Well, I must say my confusion was compounded. Not only was this BBQ already a mystery, but it started at 9:30 IN THE MORNING. ON A SUNDAY! I usually start working at noon, so I often set my alarm for 10:30 or 11:00, but NEVER 9:30! So early!? But, I was committed, and I had to see what it was all about. Plus, it involved home cooked Japanese food, so I would happily entertain a bit of mystery and fatigue. It wouldn't be the first time that I had no idea what I was doing or eating in this country.

So, Sunday morning rolls around and my alarm goes off at 9:00. I stumbled out of my futon, which can be very dangerous, and look in the mirror. 'what the hell am I doing right now?' I think as I gaze at my stubbly face and crusty eyes. 'oh yeah, I guess it's time to BBQ, just what I want for breakfast' I lament. I splash some cold water on my face, do my usual brand of morning exercise (which is known world wide as “Uri's 4 Minute Yoga”), pack my camera bag and head out the door.

In lieu of wearing dirty shoes like my boss said, I opt for the flip flops with the thought that I can just take them off and go barefoot if its really muddy or something. Yeah yeah yeah, I know what you're thinking: “what kind of dumb-ass idea is that?” Well, I tell you: when you're heading out the door at 9:20 on a Sunday morning to BBQ, you aren't thinking straight.

We meet up and drive around for a bit, getting supplies and other necessities. We pick up some vegetables, meat and shellfish to grill. We pick up some charcoal. We get some beer and soda, and then we head off into the forest. My manager's boyfriend is driving, and we are speeding off into the beauty that is Bosso. Chiba is a big peninsula, with lots of beautiful farmland and rolling hills. (It's like Florida without Nascar and retired Jews and alligators!) I was really taken by the beauty of the land, the blue sky and the fragrant smell of the rice paddies all around. My qualms about this adventure melted. I could just ride around in the car out in the country side all day. But of course that would not happen; we going to GRILL.

After about 30 minutes of driving we arrived at a huge house. Behind the house there was a mountain. The face of the mountain was covered in a dense bamboo forest. My superior instinct and skill told me this is where we were heading.

We unload the car, and make ready for our trek. My Manager's boyfriend takes one look at my flip-flops and shakes his head. He asks me in Japanese what size I wear. I answer: 28.5. Shoe size is difficult because not only am I using a foreign measuring scale, but I using this scale in a foreign language. So I was 95% sure I didn't answer correctly. But, he seemed happy with my reply and went off to fetch me some proper hiking shoes.

He returned with rain galoshes. Or wellingtons, or rubber rain boots, or whatever you call them. I was actually quite happy with this, because I would stay very clean. I was happy, until I put them on. They were just big enough to fit, and just small enough to be extremely painful. I clenched my teeth into a smile and said they were 'just fine' in Japanese. He gave me a high-five and scampered off to collect some more items.

Ten minutes later, we were off into the forest. My manager's boyfriend was wearing a type of basket backpack, and carrying two flat picks. I finally asked him what we were searching for, and he told me a word in Japanese. I took out my iphone and used the translator; 'Bamboo shoots', it informed me. Now I was starting to get an idea about what was going on.

We hike up the side of this mountain and find a little baby bamboo plant growing out of the thick pile of leaves and forest junk on the ground. It looks like a little carrot sticking half out of the dirt. My manager's boyfriend digs out around the base of the little guy and then chops it in half with the pick axe. He holds up the chopped end and smiles like a little kid. “Delicious!” he says to me in English as he throws the stubby vegetable into the backpack. The ladies 'ooh' and 'ahh'. He hands me a pick and points out into the forest.

I walk around for about 40 minutes before I find another baby bamboo. The forest is nearly vertical, so trekking is not easy. I take aim, and chop it out of the ground and throw it in the basket. After about 2 hours, we have around 10 bamboo shoots. We are all sweating like crazy from the stifling heat of the forest. My feet are about ready to break through the galvanized rubber boots. We decide that we have enough and head back to the house.

After changing my shoes, we all sit around and inspect our bounty over a beer. We have about 10-12 shoots of varying size. Some are about a foot, some around 4 inches. They do not look tasty. We get the grill going and my Manager's boyfriend shows us how to cook the shoots.

First you soak some newspaper, then wrap the shoots tightly, then place the little guys directly on the coals. Some of the paper packages got a little pat of butter inside, some didn't. We put our harvest on the coals and return the grate to the top of the grill. We cooked up some meat and mushrooms, ate some cucumbers soaked in ice water and fried some noodles yaki-soba style. I was really happy. We all sat around the grill with little plate of sauce in our left hand, and chopsticks in our right eating food directly from the grill. Everything was so fresh and tasty. The smell of the rice paddies all around us, the charcoal from the grill and the ever present mustiness of Japan was heavenly.

My manager's boyfriend even cooked up some mushrooms that he grew in a little hut behind the house. They were huge and tasted amazing. The flavor was something like that of the way an old book smells. But I swear these mushrooms imparted the knowledge of books as well. Eating one of these massive fresh shitakes was like tasting Anna Karenina, or The Sun also Rises, neither of which I need to read now. You haven't truly read a book until you've tasted it in the form of a mushroom. (For those of you who don't know, Japan was nicknamed “The land of mushrooms” by yours truly. Because of all the moisture here, there are at least 5 billion different kind of edible mushrooms at every supermarket. If you like mushrooms, Japan is heaven.)

We ran out of stuff to cook on the grill so we decided to eat our bamboo shoots. We took off the grill grate and got them out of the coals using tongs. As we unwrapped them a nice aroma wafted from the burnt newspaper. It smelled like a grilled cucumber, if you can imagine that. We took off the brown outer wrapping, and were left with a little tan stalk-like thing. It looked a bit like an artichoke heart. They were all still covered in bits of burnt newspaper. Everybody in unison took a bite. We looked around at each other while chewing. They were all smiling and chomping away, remarking how tasty and crunchy it was. I was not impressed. All I could taste was the 'wonderful' flavor of burnt newspaper, dirt, and something like watery balsa wood. I took a few more bites, sampling the bigger and smaller sizes, and pieces with and without butter. I put down my plate. No more for me.

“Wasn't that delicious?”, my co-worker asked of the bamboo shoots.

“Yeah, was delicious”, I reflected, sipping my beer. She looked at me sideways. I wanted more mushrooms.

A Mormon I met in Fukushima told me that “hunger is the best spice”. We were talking about how being hungry makes everything taste great. I thought this was a universal law of food and hunger and physics. I thought this until: I woke up early, foraged for my own food in a forest on the 2nd day of an already sweltering summer, built a fire and cooked my bounty. I would eat bamboo shoots to survive, but I don't think I would ever do it for pleasure again.

Monday, April 18, 2011

CoCo Ichi

Hey y'all! I finally got my computer back! 5 weeks later...I moved out of my apartment in Fukushima. It was a really tough day. I cried. I ate Mana Rasoi's curry too, of course. No trip to F-town would be complete without it. I got to use my gold card member benefits for the first time too, free beer!! Heyoo!!! Alright, and with out further ado, this was a post I wrote just a few days before THE earthquake. I had it read to go for saturday, and the quake struck friday. Suddenly I wasn't concerned about the food I was eating, just it's availability...anyway, that story will come another day. ENJOY!

Ahhhhh....coco ichi. CocoIchi Curry House, to be exact. This is my number #2 favorite restaurant in Japan. The motto is “good smell, good curry”. What more do you need to know? I could stop the review right now.

But I won't. And I shan't. Willn't. I would consider it a shame to deny you, my semi-captive reader, the pleasure of my poorly conjured description. In fact, CocoIchi is so good, I went through all the trouble of powering up my computer, and putting on my fingerless gloves to type this for you. Yes, it is cold enough to see my breath in my apartment, so I must type with hand protection. Dont get me started on heaters, I have one below my desk and one above my desk kickin' out the jams to no avail. My simple bamboo hut cannot retain the heat.

Honestly though, if I had a plate of CocoIchi curry in front of me, I would be as warm as a newly born star. The heat that is radiated from a single plate of this magnificent brown goop is equivalent to that of a Fukushima/Tucson summer mash up. Which is exactly which temperature I prefer my food. But enough about cities with hellish/borderline tortuous summers, lets get down to brass tacks. Whatever that means.

CocoIchi has a winning formula. It is the type of restaurant that caters to most hated of all restaurant goers: the ultra Customizer. You know who you can't order anything without changing it. I want my burger with no onions. I want my burrito with no pico de gallo, sub beans (aka the Benson). I want my masala extra, extra spicy (aka the gangster smack, aka the Mowry masala). Yes that right, even the Mayonnaise guy, your's truly. "Fuck your chef: I want Mayonaise on everything."

Wow, sorry folks, I went a little overboard there. But, such is the passion that arises when one chooses to talk about the ultra customizer. As a humble and inebriated restaurant employee for the better part of my teen years, I came to hate this person. Nothing worse than a special order to throw off my grill/saute/pizza oven chi. Anyway, CocoIchi diffuses this bomb by offering you too many choices. As a recovering customizer, it is a step back into the living hell that is being a picky eater. CocoIchi will make you anything, in any quantity, and then smother it in curry. Whats that you say? You don't speak enough Japanese to read the menu? No problem, sort of, they have a menu with 9 languages on it. Hey, bro, you asked for it. Thought ordering customized curry in Japanese was tough? Wait til you see the Greenlandic Inuit (my personal favorite).

Let's examine these choices: of course, our first order of business is rice. The standard plate comes with 300 grams. That is a lot of rice. You can order anything from 100 grams up to 1000 grams, which comes on a plate bigger than the table. The rice is tasty, fluffy/sticky, and white. (seriously, if you screw up rice in Japan, you will go out of business instantly. We are talking about customization here, not rice!)

You can custom-esize the heat 1-10. 1 being no heat, 10 being so hot that they kill a chef every time you order it. Seriously, have you ever stood over a pot of way too spicy food? Its like pepper spray. Go, try it. I ordered level 10 one time...It was the summer of twenty-ten, and I found myself challenged by an Oregonian that claimed he could out-spicy an Arizonan. We both ordered level 10 and raised our spoons. Needless to say, it was tortuously delicious. Although I was beaten in the great curry battle of twenty-ten, I was definitely not as sweaty or pink as my cool-weathered counterpart, and thus I kept my infamous and legendary swagger. And nothing proclaims swagger like ordering curry toppings.

You can order any topping you like. There are hundreds....THOUSANDS. Actually there are about 15, ranging from vegetables, to seafood, to poultry, to the dreaded natto (we shall explore natto, my dreaded enemy, someday soon). These toppings include, Kastu, a fabulous piece of deep fried pork (seriously why are you still reading; get on a plane now...DEEP FRIED PORK), chicken, beef, shrimp, some type of weird fish and my personal, and seasonal, favorite: cabbage katsu. Ground pork (sorry dad), cabbage and other secret ingredients mixed together and deep fried. On rice. Next to curry. Yowza! My cold apartment just got a little warmer just thinking about it.

So, you must be dying to know...what's my custom order? Well, as any CoCoIchi fan knows, the personal order is the true expression of love for the best chain curry restaurant on earth, and, like a guilty pleasure pop artist (Bieber fever) or a sexual perversion (Bieber fever), sometimes it is hard to admit. But, given that the internet is the haven of anonymity, I shall share my CoCo fetish with you. Ready? Dont judge:

300 grams rice

Pork Cabbage Katsu/or Chicken Katsu (depending on season)

Level 4 Spicy

Spinach Topping

Pickles and Ichi sauce to garnish

Well, there you have it. I've done leaked my CoCo order for all the world to hear or read, whatever. I feel wounded and used, but hey, I guess that whats this blog is all about. KUIDAORE!!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Nakau and changes

Ba bada bam!!!

Well, it had to happen sometime....this blog has officially changed it's format. (Actually, I, Uri Mordecai, changed it.)

I awoke from my January to early March hibernation session, which is quite popular here in Japan, to the growling of an empty stomach. Of course, I had been asleep for 51 days, so I wasn't surprised, but, I got to thinking; what's my favorite thing in the world? Well, food of course! I love food, especially now that I haven't eaten for almost 2 months (or 21 fortnights for those who are playing at home). So I decided, no I DECLARED, that this blog shall from this day forth, be about food. I figure one day it will act as my resume when I apply to Michelin in order to travel all around the world rating expensive and exclusive restaurants, which just so happens to be my dream job.

Now, for all you readers out there that are bummed out about the format change, I sincerely apologize. I remember when my favorite radio station, 104.1 THE HOG (for those playing at home), changed formats and became 104.1 The Point. Literally over night, THE HOG threw in the classic rock towel and became purveyors of crappy right wing radio (which I listen to exclusively). It wasn't the subject matter that irked me, it was the lack of warning. So, once again, I sincerely apologize.

Whilst I was pondering this format change in my post hibernation grogginess, I realized what my second favorite thing is, after food, that is. It is....wait for it....CRITICISM! Yeah, that's right, I love to criticize. Seriously, ask any of my ex-girlfriends. Ask my current girlfriend (but, lo: her answer wouldn't suffice). I am a master of rephrasing “you're doing it wrong”. It is an art that has been steeped in my subconscious ever since I was raised by a friendly pack of engineers and nurses on the deadly steppes of Arizona.

So, in my hibernation induced stupor, I finally realize what my true talents are. Eating and Criticizing. Sometimes, I can even do them simulataneously. “Holy whale burger” I mumbled, “I'm a food critic”

So, my story comes to a close, for this chapter, “Over the Pond”, has reached its conclusion. I am now officially 'over the pond' and things just seem kind of normal now. Not that Japan has suddenly become less zany overnight, but I suddenly have lost the urge to compare it to Arizona. But, I have not lost the urge to write to you, my loyal and palletely challenged friends. At least now, my urges (for those of you playing at home) have been centered around all the awesome food in this country. I wish to share with you the joy of eating in Japan. And don't worry, in due course I will include 'wacky Japan' in every story.

Let the criticizing begin!

We are going to start this food addled (read: fat) adventure off right. Nakau. Thats right, you read it correctly Nakau. Say it with me now: na-ka-oo. By far, I have eaten Nakau more than any other restaurant in Japan. What do they serve, you ask? Well, of course, ricebowls! But this isn't your typical border line racist 'yokahoma rice bowl' garbage we get back in the good ole US, but a fantastic creation known as 'gyu-don'. It basically translates to 'msg flavored beef with mushrooms and onions over rice, in a bowl'. Mmmmm......ajinomoto.......

Anyway, lets get back on track here. The reason I love Nakau is becaue it has facets, and we shall explore them all, because, you know, I love facets!

Nakau is fast food. I like fast food, but this is different than the Jack in the Box/Taco Bell/In-N-Out which I love. This is seriously fast food. When you walk into Nakau, you are of course greeting by a rousing round of welcomes, but also by a machine. This machine says nothing, at first, but once you step into its realm, it will command and embarrass you with the detexterity only a machine can muster. At Nakau, you must placate the machine to get your food, which is actually quite easy once you know how. You put in some money (up to 10,000 for those of you playing at home) select 'eat in' or 'take away' (in Japanese!) and then select your food. Easy right? Easy.......

Actually it is easy, after you know how, but the first time you try it, I guarantee you will have your food made to go, and your change will be donated to your local chapter of 'The Proponents of MSG in Babyfood Lobbyist Organization' or the PMSGBLO. Once you learn which button is 'eat in' and which button is 'gimme my 9700, or $111, back you bastard machine' you are set! All the other buttons have pictures of the food items on them, which you can select at your leisure. Okay, embarrassing episode #1 is finished, I promise.

Now, onto to #2: One of the reasons Nakau is so fast, is because when you select which item you wish to eat, it directly stimulates, via electrode, the region of the brain associated with the item. There are only two employees at any given time, so they gotta be in the know! But, the embarrassing part is that the computer also announces it to the world, very loudly, over the restaurants loudspeaker system. What's that you say, machine? Fat American ordering the Jumbo size beef bowl, Udon soup, and 10 piece fried chicken? Everyone gets to hear it. Nothing more embarrassing than everyone hearing your order when your are really hungry! Or, have just woken up from hibernation. And of course, in Japanese style, the voice announcing the order is done in a comical, helium-obsessed voice of a Japanese high school student of indeterminable sex.

After you have been defiled by this machine, you take your ticket, your change and sit down. A person will be waiting for you with a cup of tea, hot in winter, cold in summer. Nice. They will take your ticket, tear off a sliver and announce to you and everyone around you what your order is. Again. I usually just bow my head and sob and this point, but before I can even begin to produce a tear, my food is brought out. I kid you not, sometimes within seconds of sitting down. Like under 10 seconds. Its amazing. It makes waiting in line, in a car, for fast food feel like a going to a high school theater production. The speed at which my steaming pile of MSG coated beef and onions and rice is plunked down makes all my sorrow and embarrassment wash away, like a hot bath after a day of teaching English (as you all know, I am a native Dansk speaker).

Nakau's atmosphere is nothing more than stifling at best, but hey, I came here for speedy food, not for entertainment. The first problem is the music. There is the Nakau theme song and two other songs on rotation, at all times. I have memorized the Nakau theme song, I am proud to present it here to you:


ooh ooh ooh


ooh ooh ooh


Gohan o tabeyo


This translates roughly to 'use Nakau, use Nakau, eat Nakau for every meal, Nakau!'

I know the lyrical content is weak, but the beat is damn catchy, not to mention that it is played every minute without compromise. They usually start of playing some J-Pop, akb48, or exile, for example (both are highly recommended by me). But, our lovely idol groups will never reach the end of their songs because at that magic 1 minute mark, the song is stopped and Nakau jingle is played again. And again. It's insane.

The other sounds common to Nakau are the typical salary man or construction working eating food so fast he sounds like he choking. I have seen a man slurp an entire dish of soba noodles in one continuous motion. The only thing faster than the service is the eating. But, Nakau is open 24 hours (yay!) so the real freak show comes out at night. I have never seen drunker people in my life. Its not uncommon to see a man sleeping with his face in his bowl. I tried it one time myself, but I got rice in my beard. So, you can snoring to list of wacky sounds.

How does it taste? Well, its salty, satisfying, and cheap. That's right, it tastes cheap. But sometimes you know, cheap is exactly what I want to taste. Its the same thing with grilled food, such as yakitori: meat, stick, fire, eat. Simple cheap fantastic. I go for a full stomach and some entertainment. I suggest you do the same.

Pictures coming soon!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Wanko Soba in Morioka

Wanko Soba

“Don’t chew”, my boss reminded, “and don’t drink the soup either, it will only slow you down. Actually, don’t even think, just eat”.

“How many did you eat?” I asked.

“154” was the reply.

“Damn, that’s a lot. My goal is 150”, I said, gazing over his shoulder. It was the night before my winter vacation began. I had two goals, actually; the first was to be in Morioka the next day, and the second was to engage in the food challenge known as Wanko soba.

Morioka is a fairly large sized city about 2 hours north of beautiful Fukushima. Its claim to fame is that there are lots of rivers, and lots of tasty kinds of noodles. Wanko soba is the most famous noodle from Morioka because of the ridiculous ceremony that is involved while eating. People in Morioka are friendly, but they are also very hungry. This is true, because the point of the game is to try to eat as many of these little bowls of noodles as you can. The portions are just a bit bigger that bite-sized but the trick is to swallow the noodles whole. I was skeptical about this so-called “trick”.

When I stepped off the train, I was greeted by a blast of cold air and the satisfaction of completing my first goal: I had arrived in Morioka. It was about 4pm, and the sun was in its last stages of descent into the ocean. I walked out of the station and was instantly covered in powdery, dry snow. I ran, carefully on the ice, to my hotel, checked in and cowered in my room while debating whether or not I should go back to Fukushima to escape the cold. I thought about my itinerary of heading farther and farther north to eventually make it to Sapporo by New Year. I shivered at the thought.

I put on my down coat, and took off outside. I was going to eat Wanko soba. My stomach was growling words of motivation to me; I hadn’t eaten anything, except for two small rice balls that day. I checked the map to the restaurant and started walking. The snow was heavy, but it was dry and didn’t melt on my jacket. The fresh powder also made walking on the ice easier, providing a bit of traction. Walking on ice was something I was going to learn a lot about during my vacation….

I walked for about 30 minutes. I didn’t realize how far away the place was because, like usual, the map wasn’t to scale. This is a common problem in Japan. Whenever I see a map that isn’t from Google, I go to great lengths to avoid using it. But, in this case, I had no choice. I told my self that the walks, and the cold, were only strengthening my appetite.

Finally, I found the street that I thought the restaurant was on and began my search. I saw a family getting out of a car with a massive sumo sized guy in the lead. This was a good sign. He looked like the sort of fellow that considered Wanko soba to be the pinnacle of culinary artistry. I walked near to them, which of course terrified the children. I heard him ask the parking lot attendant about the restaurant, which is called Azumaya. He pointed and I smiled. All I had to do was follow the leader. This was easy, because I was basically at the door, I just couldn’t read the sign. The sumo guy looked at me suspiciously and I said in my best broken Japanese “I want to eat Wanko soba too”. He smiled and held the door open for me.

We were led upstairs, to the thunder dome of the Wanko challenge. The place was basically empty, but I did choose to come here in winter which I’m guessing isn’t the high season for tourists. As I came around the corner into the main eating arena, I was surprised to see another lone wolf foreign traveler, who had obviously already finished eating. He was sprawled out on the tatami floor, with a massive pile of empty bowls in front of him. His bib hung loosely around his neck, his face red and puffy. He looked like Jaba-the-hut; I was excited and terrified at the same time.

We started chatting and he labored to speak.

“How many did you finish?”, I pried.

“142”, he looked ill as he thought about the number. His stacked of dishes looked like the walls of the coliseum in front of him.

“Good luck”, he murmured as he died in front of me. (Not really, but I felt like typing that anyway.) He got up laboriously and engaged in what I soon realized was the most difficult part of the challenge: putting your shoes back on after you leave the tatami area. Bending over to tie my laces was going to be impossible. I pondered as the waitress brought out my spread of food with all the pomp and circumstance associated with an eating challenge.

There were about 15 little dishes with different types of flavoring agents to add to the Wanko soba at the eater’s discretion. I wasn’t interested; I wanted nothing but noodles to fill my stomach. She handed me my bib and told me instructions in Japanese. Apparently, when you are finished you have to grab this lid from off of the table and slam it down on top of your bowl and scream the Japanese equivalent of “uncle”. The waitress would hover over me for the duration of my eating and continue to fill my bowl from her small and numerous bowls, all the while encouraging me.

The challenge began. I held up my bowl and she poured in the contents of a smaller bowl, expertly tossing down the empty serving bowl next to me. I slurped down the noodles without chewing and almost choked, immediately deciding that I would at least chew a few times. I didn’t drink the broth and poured it into a nearby bucket on my table. Before I could look back up at her to request more, she had dumped another portion of noodles into my bowl without me noticing. She was clearly and expert at force feeding people. I looked up at her and she barked “Ganbatte!” which translate roughly to “you can do it!”

I ate and ate, chewing less and less as I went along. Eventually I became sort of stupefied by process and would catch my self almost pouring out the noodles into soup bucket as soon as she added them into my bowl. I was clearly fighting and emotional battle as well as a physical one. My body was trying to trick me into not eating. The woman was forcing me, tormenting me. Occasionally she would refill my bowl and soup would splash everywhere, covering me. She would grin and say sorry and then laugh. The sound of her throwing down the bowls one by one became like some form of torture, the lacquer crack, crack, crack getting louder and louder. It was like a scene from “Saw 14” or “Seven” or some other diabolical movie, except I had sought out and was going to pay monetarily for the torture.

I passed 80 and I knew I was reaching my limit. My stomach was full and I could feel the noodles getting harder to swallow. I reached 90 bowls and decided 100 was my limit. I barely forced down number 100 and made room to set down my bowl….I couldn’t find the fucking lid! Before I knew it she had refilled my bowl and was egging me on to eat more more more. I then realized why there were some many dishes with flavoring agents presented at the beginning of the challenge, not to enhance the noodles, but to hide the lid in order to further the torture. Before I ate bowl 101, I found the lid and held it in my left hand, with my chopsticks, and my eating bowl in with my last portion of noodles was in my right. It was a struggle, but I managed to use my chopsticks while holding the lid, finish the noodles, slam the bowl down and place the lid on top. She was right there on top of me trying to launch one more portion of noodles into my bowl before I could get the lid on. I had forgotten the word I was supposed to yell, so I simply said “finished” in Japanese. She smiled and the evil force feeding look melted from her face. She had returned to her sweet waitress self.

I looked at the stack of bowls in front of me; it was hard to imagine eating the contents of all of them. I asked her about the records and she told me that the men’s record was 430, and the women’s record was…brace yourself…570 bowls. I felt like a chump. The sumo guy I had followed into the restaurant was finishing his meal too, he had eaten 140 something. I need to practice. I don’t remember putting my shoes on…nor do I remember the walk home. It was reminiscent of a night of binge drinking; waking up and realizing that vast swaths of time have disappeared from my life.

If you’re ever in Morioka, you must eat Wanko soba. It’s not very tasty, and it definitely isn’t classy, but it is unique and unforgettable.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Iizaka Town

Iizaka Town

Yesterday, I went to a town called Iizaka. It neighbors Fukushima city, and is in what is know as the Date (say: Dah-Teh) district of Fukushima prefecture. If you have heard anything about Iizaka, you have heard this: the city is home to over 70 onsen, or hot springs. It is the most famous place in all of the Tohoku region (think: Japanese bread basket) for hot springs. And where there are hot springs, there are old people. Iizaka is famous for hot springs and old people. I had to see it.

I moseyed on down to the station. It was a freezing miserable day, but at least it wasn’t raining. When I arrived, I saw the other piece of common knowledge spread about Iizaka: it’s train service. The Iizaka train is famous in Fukushima for being the oldest, slowest, noisiest, bumpiest and most expensive train in the whole prefecture. It is operated by a private company so they can basically do whatever they want and charge whatever they feel. But, I hadn’t been on any trains in close to 4 months, so I was excited to move somewhere by way of rail.

I neared the ticket area. Usually, there is vending type machine with locations and prices. Put in your money, push the button and a ticket will appear. Not so. I looked around with the “hey, gaijin here, someone tell me what to do” face. It worked flawlessly and a man I assumed to be the ticket collector beckoned me over. I told him in astoundingly flawless Japanese that I was making my way, or trying, to Iizaka. He looked to his watch and pointed. He pointed to a train off in the distance along the platform. Sensing some sort of time urgency I made my way through the turnstile, and toward the train. I still didn’t have a ticket.

As I boarded, I noticed the 200 year old lady in front of me push a button to open the door. A few people were in front of me, and I was the last to board. After I got on I noticed the same button inside the train. The slowly turning gears in my brain alerted me that this was some type of open and close button. I didn’t want to bother with it, so I took my seat. I figured that the door would close on it’s own after a few seconds. Nope. The freezing cold wind was blowing in the train and everyone was pissed off. Eventually an old man stood up with a “hmmmpf” and closed the door. He looked at me. I looked at him. If he was an American, he would’ve flipped me off. But, this is Japan and the old man could do it with his eyes alone. Sorry old man, if you’re reading this.

As I sat, waiting to depart I realized that there was absolutely no time urgency what-so-ever. The ticket collector must have assumed that like most people boarding the train, I would require approximately 15 minutes to walk the 30 feet from the turnstile to the train. I wondered why he had pointed at his watch. Why didn’t he let me buy a ticket? Why was the train he pointed to under a sign marked to a different city? I was really starting to miss the efficiency, ease, and professionalism of the JR trains as opposed to this privately owned abomination. A JR train would never have a door button.

Anyway, we were off. The train was almost empty. There were a few old people, and an occasional school girl. It got me thinking: why were there so many more school girls than boys? This train had a maybe ten girls (the train only had three cars so I could see beginning to end no problem) in uniform, on a Sunday nonetheless, and not one boy. I started to wonder even more: were there really that many more school girls than boys? Did I just not see the boys because they didn’t wear tiny skirts in the middle of winter? Was it the socks? My mind started to wander. I snapped out of it by staring at an old lady who was staring at me. Her frigid stare and strange amalgam of winter clothing brought me back from my uniform induced stupor.

After about 10 stops, or about 30 minutes, I realized that I should have arrived in Iizaka already. I whipped out my handy dandy iPhone and checked my GPS. Lo and behold, I was a farther from Iizaka than when I had started. I was passing a “town” called Takako, which is basically the Japanese equivalent of naming a town Eleanor, or Beatrice, or some other antiquated name. I got off at the next stop. I was in the middle of nowhere. The sky was absolutely massive and clouds dotted out the sun. The wind was whipping and the groves of apple trees surrounding me were dancing in unison. I didn’t care about Iizaka. I could’ve stood at that train “station” for an hour absorbing the view. Luckily, the next train back to Fukushima was in 45 minutes so my wish was fulfilled. I took a seat and watched the clouds roll by. (If you have never seen clouds in Japan, you are in for a treat. They move with astounding speed and are quite mesmerizing.)

I hopped on the train, found the stupid door button and settled in for the ride. Once again, old ladies with prying eyes, sleeping old men and motionless school girls surrounded me. On the return journey, I thought back to the ticket collector at the turnstile. Was that guy purposely screwing with me? Not only did he give me a clear indication of time urgency, but he pointed directly to the wrong train. I daydreamed about slapping him with my glove and challenging him to pistols at dawn. At least I got to see Takako and her beautiful view.

Once I arrived back in Fukushima, I realized that I could’ve returned for free and simply boarded the correct train. I had never paid. I thought about it while standing approximately ten feet from the collector who clearly didn’t know shit about nonverbal communication. I decided to be honest and walked back through the turnstile, did a u-turn, and paid again. I wasn’t bowing this time. Bastard. This time I ignored all forms of help and walked directly to the train under the massive sign with the arrow and ENGLISH pointing to Iizaka.

I was off. The real Iizaka train was definitely all it was hyped up to be. It was bumpy, it stopped every 11 feet, it was cold, and the loudspeaker announcing the next station was too loud, yet somehow still incomprehensible. I put my chin on my chest and closed my eyes.

Once I arrived in Iizaka, I was happy. The city was small (less than 24,000), the sky was massive and beautiful, and the river running through the city was a nice refrain from the noise of Fukushima. It was noticeably colder. I zipped up my vest and headed off toward a hill. Usually when I arrive in a small city, I walk toward the closest hill and try to get to the top. Iizaka had a nice little hill from which I could view the city and take in the beauty of an extremely old and slightly dilapidated shrine. The river wound through the downtown and buildings jutted up from each bank in sheer walls of 10 stories or less. It was quaint and peaceful. It reminded me of Flagstaff, Arizona.

I wandered around in the downtown and eventually found a little park type thing with a place to dip my feet in some hot water. I walked to the main house area to see if I could rent a towel. It was free. I liked Iizaka even more, instantly. I soaked my feet in some scalding hot water as other old people and a few couples did the same. The same old ladies with the frigid stares and strange clothes now smiled at me and bowed. The power of something as simple as hot water was amazing.

With my feet nice and boiled, I dried off and slid my boots back on. I wanted to find the real hot spring. The pleasure of the hot water on my feet made me want to soak my entire body. I was not prepared for such a venture, but I figured I could at least find the bathhouse and come back next weekend. I walked around, through a nice temple and a graveyard and eventually found a big wooden building with a steaming tank raised high next to it. This had to be it. I was curious to see the inside of such a structure and also see what type of amenities they offered. Maybe I could rent a towel and whatever I else I needed. I walked over to the sliding doors. The doors were marked with the kanji for men and women, separately. You know what that means: naked time. I slid open the door and saw a small entrance area with a place to remove shoes. There was another sliding door inside and someone was coming out of it. I peeked in. I’m not really sure what I expected, but there was a bunch of naked dudes and steam. Everyone was old.

I ran. I ran all the way back to the train station, back to my house and into my bathroom. I filled my bath tub and threw in some bath salt. I drank a beer and read a book, and I didn’t have to see any naked dudes. Afterward, I lay in my bed until my hot water induced fever dissipated, slowly drifting off to sleep. It was fantastic. I can see how a public bathhouse would be enjoyable, if it was the year 1450. I think I will stick to my bathtub at home, though. No body minds if I drink beer, fart, or drop my book in the water. Nobody minds if I forget to push the button on the door. And, best of all, there are no ticket collectors on the way to my bathroom.