JusDubs Field Trip

JDO Field Trip: Zauo

The freshest fish here are the ones you catch yourself

"Zauo" is an amalgamation of the kanji for "Sit" and "Fish", which is basically the entire concept of this themed restaurant chain in Japan.

Unlike those in most seafood restaurants, the aquariums in Zauo are not just for show. When you enter Zauo, you're given a fishing rod and some bait, and are told to catch your own dinner. You sit on a giant boat, surrounded by an equally impressive aquarium full of fish.

The aquarium is full of a variety of pescaterian delights ranging from red snapper, to mackerel, to sharks. If it's in the aquarium, it's fair game for you to catch. Whether or not you can catch the more delectable fish depends more on luck than skill.

When you eat depends on how well you fish, and how you want your fish prepared. You can get your fish grilled, fried, steamed, and boiled, but the freshest option is to have your fish raw, sashimi style.

JDO Field Trip: Kabukicho Robot Restaurant

Cabaret where the show girls are all androids, and the patrons couldn't be more pleased

Robotic fantasy women. From Metropolis to Blade Runner, the idea of creating a humanoid female doppelganger has been an obsessive – and mainly male – fantasy since Pygmalion made his sexy statue in Ovid's Metamorphosis. With the invention of robotics, the sexy statue has taken a step closer to reality.

In the district of Kabukicho, the mecca of gentlemen’s entertainment in Tokyo, seizure-inducing flashing neon lights advertise the thousand and one earthly delights one can experience for money. But between hostess bars and soaplands stands a sexy storm trooper's invite into one of the venues. Here the robots have their own techno-cabaret.

A robot that can be programmed to act and look like a human female mate, albeit one that takes commands and won't question authority, has a creepy undertone, but like Pygmalion offers a kind of perfected beauty without the possible pain of rejection. These sexy androids are especially popular for male Otakus, the manga-obsessed fringe of the Japanese population. Otaku or not, a visit to the robot cabaret intrigues on many levels. Thanks to Japanese robotics, like Venus granting Pygmalion's wish to marry his statue, visitors to the Kabukicho Robot Restaurant can get close to their own robotic fantasies.

In the stroboscopic set of blinks and flashes, the Robot Restaurant highlights dinner with a unique performance; gigantic female machines, with large-breasted Valkyrie torsos and Gundam engine legs on wheels will dance and pirouette in an intriguing spectacle much closer to "ParaPara" (synchronized Japanese dancing) choreography than to an actual striptease. Modeled on video game characters, their cyborg faces mimic a large variety of positive emotions, rolling rhythmic eyes in their synthetic sockets, and equipped with “pneumatic busts” that can grow on demand. Each of these clockwork amazons is piloted by one or two actual living, breathing bikini gogo dancers, so onlookers can still enjoy a bit of human flesh.

The three-hour show resembles a kawai version of Tron, with a twist of J-pop and some sexy giggles.

Mount Osore

This mountain's identity is stuck somewhere between a nightmare and a scenic tourist attraction

The site is smelly. The attractions are morbid. And strangest of all, this cursed little slice of heaven is very popular with the locals.

Mount Osore is said to mark the entrance of hell.

It's not hard to see why. The area is very sulphuric, which causes a disturbing odor to hang stiffly in the air. Blind mediums mill the grounds claiming to speak to the dead. And for whatever reason, tourists love to drop by for a visit.

In reality, many of the visitors are not simple tourists, but rather grieving survivors who have come to this alleged bridge to the afterlife to mourn dead children. It's common for the mourners to leave pinwheels and snacks for the children they honor.

Of course, tourists visit as well. Various monuments, mausoleums and statues mark the area, for better or worse, as a mystical location with various spiritual powers and insights. A nearby Buddhist temple also allows the very dedicated to worship at the gates of hell.

JDO Field Trip: Hachikyo

This exacting restaurant will charge a fine for every grain of rice you've left behind

Shaming wasteful children into realizing that food is not a thing to be taken for granted is the job of every parent with the luxury to do so. The Hachikyo restaurant in Sapporo, Japan has also taken on the task of teaching wasteful people to appreciate their food, but with a much different (and possibly more effective) strategy than the old "starving kids in Africa" standard.

In Hachikyo, you are allowed to eat only after you agree to the restaurant's rules. That is, if you leave even one grain of rice on your bowl, you will have to pay a fine, but that is merely the beginning.

Before the waiters serve their specialty, tsukko meshi (Salmon Roe) they serve the rice. You are not to eat any of the rice, or push the rice down in the bowl before the tsukko meshi is served on top. Disturbing the rice is grounds for having your tsukko meshi revoked.

After a short time, the waiters begin to serve the tsukko meshi. As they spoon the salmon roe onto your rice, they yell out an old sea shanty, in which the diners have to yell back. This, combined with the tight, shanty-like atmosphere, kind of makes you feel like you're getting your food right off the docks.

At first, the threat of a fine for leftover food and the hoops you have to jump through to get served in the first place seems like a way to take advantage of people's limited appetites and limited patience, but there's actually a rather altruistic goal in mind. The owner, Hitoshi Sugita, says that the reason for the fine is not for profit, but to pay respects to the fisherman who provided the tsukko meshi in your bowl. Fishing is a dangerous and potentially deadly profession, so you either pay respects to the fishermen with your stomach or your wallet.

Fines and rituals aside, Hachikyo offers a huge bowl of stsukko meshi for about 1,890 yen (about $20), which is a pretty decent deal considering the amount you eat; just be sure to clean your plate, or be ready to pay up.

JDO Field Trip: 007 Museum

A museum dedicated to the least secret spy is actually an attempt to get Hollywood's attention

International super spy character James Bond is one of the most popular characters in the world and more than worthy of his own museum, however the 007 Museum in Naoshima, Japan was opened not out of love for the fictional playboy but in an attempt to get his next film to shoot in the island town.

After the Japanese town of Naoshima was mentioned in the extended universe James Bond novel, The Man with the Red Tattoo by author Raymond Benson, some enterprising locals decided it was only a matter of time before the novel was turned into a blockbuster film which would assumedly have to be filmed in the town. Thus in a wishful act of manifest destiny, the 007 Museum was opened in 2005.

The museum itself is a wonderful collection of movie memorabilia and pop art. The walls are covered in movie posters and title cards, hanging above glass cases that hold watches and guns seen in the dapper agent's films. There are also more abstract flourishes, such as a giant bleeding heart sculpture, or the photo op setup where visitors can put their face on the body of a distorted Bond mid-punch.

There are still a few of Ian Fleming's original novels to be adapted into film before the continuing adventures make it to Hollywood, but hopefully when The Man with the Red Tattoo finally gets to the silver screen, the 007 Museum will have secured Naoshima's inclusion.

JDO Field Trip: Tetsujin 28 Robot Statue

A 59-ft. robot statue looks over the citizens of earthquake-ravaged Kobe, Japan

When a disaster hits and a community is in shambles, there is nothing left to do but rebuild.

Humans are nothing if not resilient, and in the darkest times, people still manage to crawl out of the wreckage and start again. This is exactly what the people of Kobe did after a ruinous earthquake in 1995, and what better symbol to memorialize the strength of the community and guard against future disaster than a giant Japanese robot?

Tetsujin-28 is a full-scale, 59-ft. statue, dedicated on the 15th anniversary of the Great Hanshin earthquake, a 7.3 tremor that devastated several Japanese cities and killed over 6,400 people. Hardest hit was the Hyogo Prefecture, which suffered a huge percentage of the casualties, and struggled with fires, aftershocks, and power outages for days after the initial shock.

Commemorating the resiliency and strength of the effected communities and standing as a protective figure from further disaster, Tetsujin-28 is a manga character from Mitsuteru Yokoyama's 1956 "Tetsujin 28-go". The widely popular and often-adapted story tells of a robot built to be a military superweapon that, upon the death of his creator, becomes friend and companion to the creator's young son. Together the boy and his robot fight crime and defeat other robots bent on destruction.

Located in Wakamatsu Park, the robot was erected for practical reasons as well. Accompanied by other life-sized characters from popular manga, Tetsujin-28 was created as part of a plan to encourage tourism to a place economically ruined by the earthquake, the city of Kobe. A short walk from Kobe's Shin-Nagata Station, the robot is the most popular statue by far, and is often covered in climbing children who recognize the big metal guy as both a gaurdian and a friend.

Sarushima - "Monkey Island"

A small island with no monkeys but plenty of military ruins

The only natural island in Tokyo Bay, in that it has no man-made beaches or cliffs, Sarushima is a small rocky piece of land that acts as a barrier to the important harbor.

While the island is now no more than a relaxing spot for fishermen and tourists, its strategic importance has been known since the early 1800s when the Tokugawa Shogunate built military fortifications on the island which still remain today. During World War II the strategic importance of the island was again leveraged as the Japanese built artillery points around the older structures. Brick-lined tunnels and walls of fortresses still remain from generations past, though they are now overgrown with plants, creating a unique blend of history and nature.

Sarushima translates to "Monkey Island," having earned its name from a legend that says a priest followed a white monkey to one of the island's many pristine beaches. There are no monkeys in residence on the island but the modern ruins, warm sands, and prime fishing spots have certainly increased the homo sapiens population.

JDO Field Trip: Asahi Plaza Capsule Hotel

The first, the original... the hotel room in a pod

Japan has a multitude of interesting and innovative ideas to its credit. Many have been adapted by other cultures. Some remain uniquely Japanese. Pod hotels are in the latter category.

Created to meet the need for hotel rooms in the crowded urban centers around Japan, they provide the most basic of accommodations when visiting a city. A bed, a TV, a reading light and not much more are fit into the science fiction-esque sleeping quarters. The pods have also found a clientele in drunk businessmen.

There is more to do at the hotel than just enjoy your personal pod, as it is equipped with a variety of communal rooms such as saunas and a comic book room, though many of the extras cost a little to use.

The Asahi Plaza Capsule Hotel first opened in 1979, and the trend has spread to other locations and cities but doesn't seem to have left this corner of the globe yet.

The Vine Bridges of Iya Valley

Hanging over one of Japan's "hidden valleys," these vine bridges must be remade every three years

One of Japan's three "hidden" valleys, West Iya Valley is home to the kind of misty gorges, clear rivers, and thatch-roofed houses that one imagines from a Japan of 100 years ago. Remote and difficult to enter, the valley was a favored hideout of refugees, bandits, and disgraced warriors. To get across the Iya river that splits the rough valley terrain, these bandits, warriors, and locals created a very special, if unsteady, type of bridge — a vine bridge.

No one is sure exactly who first created the vine bridges that reach across the Iya River (there were at least 13 at one point), although a couple of popular theories exist, both steeped in folklore. One tale says that the bridges were created by spiritual figure Kōbō-Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism. Assumedly he came to the impromptu solution while traveling in the area and the idea caught on well enough to become a tradition. The other school of thought is that the bridges were originally the work of the legendary Heike refugees who would have built the bridges while fleeing from the Genji Clan, in search of a safe place to settle down. The idea was that the bridges could be easily cut down, turning the river valley into a naturally impassible barrier to their enemies.

To create the bridges, two Wisteria vines — a particularly aggressive and tough vine that climbs around any host — were grown to extraordinary lengths from either side of the river. Once the vines had reached a sufficient length they were woven together and planking was woven into them at 8 to 12 inches apart. The bridge had no sides and a Japanese historical source relates that the original vine bridge was so unstable, that when those who were not used to it attempted to cross, the bridge would start to sway and bounce wildly causing the poor soul to freeze in place, unable to go any farther. No doubt this suited the reclusive residents of Iya Valley just fine.

Local artisans have continued to keep the bridges alive, and while the number of bridges has dwindled to three, they are no less amazing. The largest and most accessible of the spans is the Iya Kazurabashi Bridge which reaches almost 150 feet across the valley at a height of almost 50 feet above the water. This more popular of the vine bridges is in West Iya, quite close to the main village, but the most beautiful vine bridges are a pair found in the east of the valley, known as the husband and wife bridges. Though stories range as to their origins, some believe they were built in the 1100s.

While some (though apparently not all) of the bridges have been reinforced with wire and side rails, they are still harrowing to cross. 147 feet long, with planks set seven inches apart and a drop of four and a half stories to the water, they are not for those with a fear of heights. As one bridge crosser put it: "You never think a vine bridge is scary until you walk on one and shit a brick."

About a two-hour drive from Tokushima City, the bridges can still be crossed for 500 yen.

Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum

Ramen History

Though the ramen noodle originated in China, that’s not stopping Yokohama from erecting a three-story historical museum, theme park, and restaurant experience catering to devotees of the famous "everyman’s" food.

At the ground level, a detailed history of the ramen noodle is on full display, replete with vintage ramen paraphernalia, 25 years of noodle commercials broadcast via digital displays, two life-size dioramas depicting the inner workings of an instant ramen factory, and more.

Occupying the two bottom-most floors is a miniature historical theme park where visitors stroll through a 1:1 scale replica of Tokyo’s old town as it appeared at the beginning of the ramen boom in 1958, including period billboards overhead.

Of course, no trip to the Disneyland of noodles would be complete without sampling the delicacy in question. Nine carefully selected restaurants occupy the recreated storefronts, representing many of Japan’s regional takes on ramen. Since few people in their right minds could choose between Sapporo-style noodles and chaa-shun (traditional roast pork) or Hokkaido’s version garnished with kikurage (“wood ear”), most restaurants offer half servings for maximum ramen overload.

Folks interested in the sweet over the savory can visit a period-accurate candy shop or partake in cotton candy hawked by street vendors without missing any of the old-timey fun.