Kinokuniya Books, one of our favorite places

Kinokuniya Books next to Bryant Park in Manhattan is really great. It’s full of all sorts of books, magazines, and stationery that you won’t find anywhere else, at least outside of Japan. It’s inspiring to go there because you’ll always find something new to catch your eye.

Their first floor is full of English language novels, some Japanese cookbooks in English, and some unique graphic design books and things, but I’m going to skip over all that for now, since it’s stuff that you can mostly find in the library or another bookstore.

The basement is full of really unique magazines. Compared to your usual bookstore, they have a ton of options with a guy’s aesthetic, on topics from music, to fashion, to interior design.

The basement floor has books for learning Japanese and Japanese culture. There’s also books in Japanese for learning foreign languages.

The top floor is Japanese and English language manga, graphic novels, and books on illustration. They also have a Studio Ghibli section, as well as those collectible anime figurines, if that’s your thing.

If you’re a frequent customer, they have a $20 annual membership that gives you 10% off purchases and access to periodic 20% off members only events. It includes periodic gift certificate “rebates” and in our case has already paid for itself.

DIY: Super Nintendo nostalgia on your TV

I’m going to put this in Brewing, as in your own homebrew Super Nintendo, since it’s the best category I have for now.

When we were in Montreal, we stumbled on this cafe that had a Super Nintendo with Super Mario for customers. It was the coolest idea, video games while you enjoy your coffee. I suppose the area was for kids, given the low ceilings and bright colors. We enjoyed ourselves regardless, and I resolved to work up something similar.

Now, back in New York, I started looking into getting a SNES for our apartment. Turns out they can be had for $40-80 used on eBay, with an extra $20-25 or so per game. Watch out because some of these are remade hardware and not original. For $100 or so you can get yourself set up with some still functional nostalgia. However, given that you can get a Gamecube or other more modern system for even less, you’re paying for the nostalgia factor.

Materials

I found the low-budget route: OpenEmu, a free open source emulator for Mac, has support for SNES, Genesis, original Nintendo, and more. Just add a controller and connect to your TV.

Here’s the route I went:

Total cost: $32

Setup

OpenEmu runs from a folder without much of an installation process. You don’t actually need a controller or TV, a laptop monitor with keyboard controls will work to start. Here are the steps:

  1. Download OpenEmu
  2. Hold the control key and then double-click to override the security settings for unrecognized applications
  3. Google SNES ROMs and download. Watch out for popups and spam. Drag-and-drop the ROMs to load them into OpenEmu
  4. Plug in controller
  5. Go to Preferences > Contols to select the USB gamepad and map it to the proper keys. OpenEmu will lead you through this process
  6. Link your computer to TV using the HDMI cable (or preferred option)
  7. Play

Next steps

There’s a SNES mini console being re-released by Nintendo at the end of September 2017. It will come with two controllers and 20+ games for $80. It’s a good place to start if you’re looking for a list of must-try games for your new system.

Now that I have the SNES all set up with Mario, Kirby, and the rest, I’m going to head back to Google and find Sonic the Hedgehog. If you’d like to step even further back in time to play Pitfall! or Centipede, there is support for the Atari 2600 / 7800.

Japan’s 21st-century toilet technology

Never have I seen so many buttons in a bathroom stall, I thought as I took a quick pit stop after our 14-hour flight from New York to Tokyo. It turns the sleek international terminal of Narita Airport would not be the last place we’d see what I’d call “toilet technology”. 

Japan is indeed a very advanced country, and is the ancestral home of Super Mario Brothers, Sonic the Hedgehog, the Toyota Prius and other electronic wonders. This is a place where a simple electric rice maker comes in more varieties than Baskin Robbins’ ice cream. Still, nowhere more than the humble commode did I notice this technological obsession. Whether it’s a well-intentioned attempt to save water or a simple infatuation with the newest gadgets, we couldn’t tell.

In Japan, the simple toilet has been replaced by the “heat-let”, a heated toilet seat, and the “wash-let”, a kind of remote-controlled three-dimensional bidet. The wash-let has impressively precise streams for both ends. It even includes a privacy feature: the “music” button, which plays soothing (and muffling) water sounds during your restroom activities.

Still, there are corners of the country that make do with the ultra-traditional “hole in ground” commode, what I would call “the squatter”. I am not a toilet historian and thus do not know when the rapid evolution from “squatter” to robotic “wash-let” began. What I can report, however, is that the robots have nearly triumphed. These robotic toilets are ubiquitous.

Japan was a charming mix of old and new, traditional and technological. Though besides its arcades, its technology was most on show in its bullet trains (shinkansen) and its restroom facilities. If I were a sociologist, I would say this tells us something about national priorities, but I think it reflects something about humanity as a whole, because what else can you ask for besides a little entertainment, a quick ride, and a relaxing place to poop?

How to Take a Bath in Japan

Our Western stereotype of Japan is that everything there is small and more efficient, and while that isn’t entirely true, it does hold for the perplexing task of bathing in a Japanese bath. Believe it or not, bathing is not a straightforward exercise, and at the moment to you go bathe, we have found that there is no English language interpreter to assist.

Consider this blog post a short-cut that will allow you, the reader to avoid confused moments in a cold room when minimally clothed.

Boys and Girls

Japanese baths in the same family home are shared between the entire family, though in a public bath, hotel or guest house you may encounter two sets of fabric curtains. Blue is for men and red is for women.

All the facilities inside are shared between individuals of the same gender. Within the bath area, clothing is not used, though it seems that Japanese hotels understand that Westerners may feel uncomfortable, so they don’t seem to mind if you use a swimsuit, though in that case you wouldn’t be able to fully bathe.

Public baths have lockers for your belongings and towel and hotels, even simple ones, provide you with a kimono-like robe to wear before and after entering the baths. Once you’ve stashed your belongings and disrobed, enter the bath itself.

The Showerhead

Upon entering a Japanese bath, you will see a showerhead and faucet and a tub. The showerhead/faucet combo is accompanied by a small stool and a wash bucket. Japanese use the stool to sit while bathing and use the bucket to dump water over their bodies. For the most part, I treated the wash area as a shower and used the detatchable showerhead to rinse my body instead of the gung-ho bucket of water approach. Soap and shampoo are provided. There is also a mirror for shaving.

The Tub

In public baths, there is generally a large pool. This tub or pool is filled with hot water and stays clean of soap and unwashed bodies. Wash your body, your hair, and then rinse off the soap. After this step, you’re ready to enter the tub or pool for a nice soak. In public baths, the jacuzzi-like pool is shared among all. In private hotel rooms or homes, the small deep tub of soak water is maintained clean for the entire family.

Finishing Up

Once you’ve soaked sufficiently, you can get out and wash again or simply rinse off and dress. At this point you could put on your kimono-robe to walk around the hotel or dress in your usual attire.

Enjoy the feeling of relaxation and cleanliness. It’s like a normal bath, only better, since it’s Japanese.

In Japan, it’s always time for coffee

There is a well-founded stereotype of Japan as a place where people take their job seriously. One sip told me they take their coffee seriously here as well. For a country associated with green tea, this was a big surprise.

There is no watery diner coffee here. If even grandparents make this strong a drink, you know Japan must really love its coffee.

Beginnings

Our first morning in Tokyo, fresh off the plane and jet-lagged, we stopped for a simple breakfast. Next to the Senso-ji shrine in Asakusa, a mostly low-slung neighborhood of covered shopping arcades and quiet alleyways near the center of Tokyo, we found a small cafe run by an elderly couple. It main features appeared from the outside to be warmth and tiny cuteness, two ubiquitous attributes in Japan.

We were served a hard boiled egg, buttered toast sticks, and coffee. It was 400 yen or around $4, and was just what we needed to get the motor running at 9am. That is roughly 9pm New York time. This simple cafe meal served as our introduction to both the simple Japanese breakfast and Japanese coffee.

Note: Japan doesn’t seem to be big on breakfasts, many establishments, even those that serve coffee or pancakes, don’t open until lunchtime. Those that do serve simple plates like the one we had.

Coffee Everywhere

Brewed on what looked like an hourglass with water in the bottom and thick black liquid in the top, our first coffee was strong. Later I found that this scientific-looking device is called a siphon and is similar to the Italian Bialetti or moka pot.

Further exploration found little coffee shops around nearly every corner. Strong coffee would prove to be a trend. Some offered fresh-roasted beans and pour-over coffee. Most memorably, the elderly owner of a tiny nameless coffee roastery we stumbled upon on a corner in Osaka took time away from his equally aged machinery to fix us a fresh cup in the corner.

Others, such as Enseigne d’angle, offered jet-black French-press at a wood-paneled bar with white-suited waiters and a vibe straight out of the 1930s. Sitting down in a quiet corner with plastered walls and dim light-shaded illumination, we took a break from the hustle-and-bustle of Tokyo.

The most “mod”, such as Rokumei in Nara, offered airy seating, third-wave coffee cred, and a meal of fresh salad, yogurt, and a card with tasting notes and bean origin. Awards from coffee championships hung on the wall above brewed samples of the different origin beans for sale.

Still others, like the top-notch Vie de France offered fresh French pastries and the aforementioned siphon. The most humble offered toast, a machine espresso, and little pods of concentrated creamer.

When in Japan

Yet when you’re in the process of adjusting to jet lag, those rules about coffee in the mornings and none after dinner go out the window. Who remembers what time it is anyway? Any hour is potentially a good time to sit down with a warm cup, and any coffee shop has a great pour waiting for you.