18 July 2002
Tomorrow we return home. Except for my having to work, this
has been a great trip.
We had 2 typhoons, but they were relatively meek in our vicinity. Lots of rain, but not for more than a few hours and not the serious wind. The weather has been warm during the day, but very nice in the evening. (I was in meetings, so the heat was Jackie's price for getting to visit lots of interesting places.)
Jackie hooked up with 3 other spice of attendees. They went to interesting places and saw interesting things. I should be able to cite the details for you, but I've had a 'guy' week
She did come back from some of her excursions with some artsy pictures. I particularly liked this one, of an umbrella with light shining through.
And here are Jackie's full set of Yokohama pictures.
However today I played hookey and went with them to Nagoya, 2
hours away by Shinkansen bullet train. We went to visit a Toyota museum
of technology for weaving and automobile manufacturing. It is an extraordinary
place, with what seems to be a full set of equipment -- and we are talking about
factory-sized machines -- and some excellent pedagogy. Sometimes they
had several generations of the same kind of device. So we got to see backstrap
weaving, initial hand-looms, initial mechanical ones, water-jet shuttle cocks,
and so on.
For me the highlight was a fellow who showed the basic mechanisms of turning raw cotton into thread. He had an excellent, highly polished and theatrical style that was reminiscent of a magician -- and it was almost entirely non-verbal. Indeed the process is pretty mystical. The best part was taking the end of the forming thread, touching the raw cotton and having then end grab on and continue developing thread.
The automobile side had a wonderful stamping demonstration that turned out a small piece of metal that is the part that moves a piston. They make a new one for each demonstration.
They also had a great, hands-on area of demonstrations (fulcrum, resonant frequency, etc.) for kids. As one of the wives noted, the longer any adult is in that room, the younger and shorter they get.
And it would not be possible to do a note like this without mentioning food. Jackie latched onto the idea of our finding an Okonomi-yaki restaurant. I then refused to let her give it up.
The term refers to something that is usually called a "japanese pizza" but it's really a kind of frittata, and originated in Osaka. It's cooked on an open griddle with assorted contents and egg, and covered with a thin, mild barbecue sauce. They give you a slightly spicy mayonnaise to put on. We tripped across this food item in Singapore and have enjoyed the flavor, mouth-feel and fun of these. Two years ago we found an Okonomi-yaki place that prompted us to learn the word "oishii" (delicious.) I've decided that it is the second-most important word in Japanese, after sumimasen (excuse me).
The problem, this time, was that we did not know where one of these places was. So we wandered around an alley-way maze next to the subway station near the hotel. It has a jillion little restaurants, none of which showed a picture of one of these frittattas and nearly none of which had any romanji characters (english). As part of the sequence of giving up, I broke down and asked folks at a couple of random restaurants if they served okonomi-yaki. I knew the answer would be no, but hoped they would point us somewhere, on the theory that we might come back to them on another night. It didn't work.
So we finally decided to give up because I had to get to a meeting shortly. We stood on a corner and looked around to figure out where our hotel was. At that moment, a man in a suit came up to us, got our attention, got a questioning look on his face and said "okonomi-yaki??"
He walked us about 3 blocks down the alleyways to a place with a picture of the stuff. Besides our profuse arigatos, Jackie offered to have him join us, but he implied that someone was waiting. He had a few english words, but no conversation. Just a guy doing a good deed.
And the meal was perfect. As usual, the staff were amused.
As usual, we were appreciative.
I got to use "oishii" liberally.