January 18, 2012


On a trip to Tokyo last month, I came across an interesting word that I had never heard before. The word is “smork” and I saw it twice.

The first time was at a small bakery/cafe and the word “smork” was written on a sign taped to the table that my friend and I were sitting at.

No Smorking allowed!

The second instance of “smork” was found at a clothing store inside Shinjuku Station. In fact, the store is called “Smork by Language.”

Smork by Language, a clothing store in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

I believe the only explanation for this is that the owners of the bakery have some sort of dispute with the clothing store owners. Anyone have any other guesses? 😉


December 14, 2011

How to use a toilet

Filed under: Interesting, school, seikatsu — myyearinjapan @ 11:51 am

I found this in a bathroom stall at a Japanese elementary school.

Instructions on using the toilet made simple for the kids. Translation: 1. Pee Poo 2. Toilet paper (wipe) 3. Flush



December 13, 2011

Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine

Japan loves its UNESCO World Heritage sites. And throughout the country there are 16 designated World Heritage sites. (Not too many compared to some other countries, but not too shabby either.) The Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine became a World Heritage site in 2007. The silver mine area is nestled in the mountains about 2 1/2 hours north of Hiroshima in Oda city, Shimane prefecture.

The silver was discovered in 1526 and the mines were in operation for the next 400 years. When production in the mines were at their peak in the 17th century, 1/3 of the world’s silver was extracted here. But the area is not industrial. It is well-off the beaten path and you feels more like a mountain valley than a once prosperous silver town. Perhaps that is why the official UNESCO name for the site is “Iwamai Ginzan Silver Mine and its Cultural Landscape.”

I went to visit the mine on a rainy day in May.

Like most people who visit the mine, I began with a visit to the World Heritage Center. I was driving to the mine by myself and I got lost for a while on the rural back roads. There is virtually no English signage leading people to the mines and even the Japanese signs are confusing.  Eventually, I found the World Heritage Center, parked my car and went inside. Inside is a small museum about the mines, a 3D model of the region and several peppy volunteers, happy to give information about the mines and offer sample itineraries, based on the amount of time you have available. (I was a bit surprised to discover that there are no staff members there who speak any English.) They pointed me towards the bus that runs between the Center and the center of the old mining town every 15 minutes.

The mountains surrounding the mines.

Looking down the main road of the tiny mining town.

Lots of old style architechture around the silver mines. It feels like stepping into the past. Can you see the rain pouring down in this picture?

More on the silver mine after the jump


October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

Filed under: Events, Interesting — myyearinjapan @ 11:53 am

Happy Halloween from Japan!

A kabocha squash made at a local elementary school

It says Happy Halloween!


Kabocha jack-o-lantern totem pole

October 25, 2011

Industrious Spiders

We have some very busy spiders outside my apartment. They make their webs bigger and bigger everyday and at the moment, they are taking advantage of the warm fall to make their webs bigger then ever. Their webs now cover most of the telephone pole in front of the building. The other day, as I pulled into the apartment parking lot, the light was hitting the webs and they looked gorgeous. I posted different pictures of spiders last year (some of which were taken around my apartment building). Those can be seen here.

A telephone pole that is now property of the spiders.

Sorry I'm not home right now, walking into spiderwebs, so leave a message and I'll call you back...

October 17, 2011

Autumn Festival

This year, I was invited to see a local fall festival (秋祭り). It was held in a small neighborhood nestled deep in the mountains. In good weather, this neighborhood is a 20 minutes drive from the nearest store. Once the snow falls, it takes even longer. The festival involved bringing a large object from the elementary school to a local shrine. (The school only has 5 students and will be shut down at the end of the school year.)

On the bottom left is the object that will be transported. The building on the right is the school gymnasium. The blue jacket like things that everyone is wearing are called Happi. They say 祭, or festival, on the back and are a very common sight at any local festival in Japan.

Everyone had interesting outfits for the festival.

I thought this guy was pretty funny. He had a bunch of daikon raddies and he kept grating them in a menacing way throughout the day. He would go up to small children, scare them with his creepy mask, and then hand them a piece of candy. The confusion on their faces was priceless!

It took 15 or 20 men to carry the heavy...thing. (I'm not really sure what to call it...) They had a lot of trouble keeping it steady.

More pictures after the jump (more…)

October 3, 2011

Broken Love Bell

Filed under: Chuugoku, Domestic, Interesting, Trips — myyearinjapan @ 12:55 pm

At a rest stop on the Sea of Japan coast, a love bell sticks out from the ground. It was designed so that 2 people would have to press 2 separate buttons at the same time to make it work. Perhaps it’s supposed to be 2 people in love? But the bell is broken!

Looking out at the Sea of Japan on a sunny day. This place is completely packed on summer afternoons.

The bell. It's particularly good looking if you ask me.

Instructions for how to ring the bell. Looks like you're meant to hold hands while you do it.

The sign says that the bell is broken and will never be fixed because it's too old to be fixed. Sorry for the inconvenience! But why keep a broken bell there as a blight on their beautiful beachfront?

September 1, 2011

Mock Cow Milking at the Supermarket

Filed under: Events, Food, Interesting — myyearinjapan @ 12:18 pm

One Saturday, my friend and I walked into our local supermarket to find out that a special event was going on. Several companies were giving away free samples and employees were placed throughout the store stamping raffle cards. (You have to get 5 stamps to equal one entry to the raffle.) One of the supermarket staff members asked us where we were from and when we said we were from the US, he told us that he had gone on a business trip to the US and that he really likes Trader Joe’s.

My favorite of the stations set up by one of the companies was the one set up by the local milk company. They had a mock cow milking station!

Fake cow head

Fake milking the fake cow

August 29, 2011

Bangkok Find: Reacting Trash Can

Inside the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, my friend and I found a a trash can with a video screen on it. And whenever you throw something into the bin, you can see your trash on the video screen. Kind of.

Inside the art and culture centre.

The trash can.


May 19, 2011

Riding the Nostalgia Train

Ok, there is no train called “Nostalgia Train,” as far as I know, but I rode one of several trains that run through rural regions of Japan and are meant to be reminiscent of old time-y trains. We were hoping to go on a sunny, spring day, but we had to settle for a rainy day. To me it was more of an overpriced rural train than a nostalgia train, but it was still fun.

The nostalgia train! It costs twice as much as riding the normal train! Yay!

Inside the train. They only use this train for these special "nostalgia train" trips.

The view from the train. We waited until cherry blossom season had started, hoping to see some beautiful scenery, but we hadn't counted on the fact that the train moves farther and farther into the mountains. We saw great scenery pulling out of our local station, but as the altitude got higher and higher, the scenery got browner and uglier. This is near our local station where the scenery was still nice.

When we pulled into one station, this kindergarten class was waiting on the platfom to serenade us and hand us origami tulips through the window. It was adorable.

One of the little kindergateners singing a song about tulips. Did I mention that it was raining that day?

Watching the scenery pass us by through the window with no glass.

Another highlight of the trip is supposed to be hopping off at this station to get water that is said to be so healthy that it will lengthen your life. (Not scientifically proven)

This is a part of one of the most overrated tourist sites ever. It's just a part of a roadway that curves up and loops around by this mountain (the bridge in the picture leads to the loop). The local government is trying to get more people to visit the area so they advertise this road loop as a tourism hot spot. At the loop itself is a small shop and a little art museum, but the loop is very far off the beaten path and the museum is not worth the trek, in my opinion.

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