Neighborhood cats

Naomi and her mother gave names to the neighborhood cats. The brown one on the left is Sundance, the white one next to him was named Butch (not just because of the reference to “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” but because he’s obviously been in many neighborhood cat fights and looks like a “Butch”) and the other white cat is Tita.

The sign on the awning says, “Bi-u-[dash]-te(i)-ru-[dash]-mu” (beauty room) plus a kanji character that I can’t read.


Another funny sign: Guitar’s Freek.

Grocery store

The shelf of a grocery store with many interesting food products such as Chocolat Pretz and Tomato Pretz, Blocky and a frightening one called Cream Collon (at least it’s spelled with two “L’s”) at bottom right.

Naomi informed me that there is a new variety of Pretz available: Beer Pretz. It comes in two flavors which are supposed to go well with beer: spicy chicken and “something fishy.”

Goon diapers

Goon diapers. Actually it says, “Goo . n” but the period doesn’t improve my understanding of its meaning at all. According to my dictionary, goon is slang for (1) a hired thug, or (2) a very stupid or silly person. How this might relate to the baby you are applying the diaper to is simply amusing speculation on my part.

la poupee

A store in the underground mall near the Kyoto train station called “la poupée.” Although the French means a perfectly respectable “The Doll,” somehow or other, it metamorphoses in my search for strange signs to “something completely different,” as they would say on Monty Python.


Another image (in Teramachi) from my continuing search for amusing signs: “rarmen.” Perhaps eating these noodles make you feel like a tiger?

Guitar store

Of course, I had to check out the local guitar shop in Teramachi. I was interested in the Japanese copies of the Fender Stratocaster (the classic rock model, hanging up in front — I have an all-black one), Fender Telecaster (the popular country-western and rock model, on the floor in back) and Gibson 355 (Chuck Berry’s favorite, hanging up in the back).

I didn’t have a chance to actually try out any guitars here but the Japanese Ibanez guitars I own have superb sound and action, so I expect that these are also very good, copies though they might be.

Giant crab

The first two hiragana characters on the sign say “ka-ni,” which means crab, but I didn’t need to be able to read and translate the characters to know what they serve here. This giant crab above a restaurant in Teramachi has legs and eyes that move. I could have shot a low-budget Japanese monster movie at this location had I also bought a digital movie camera.

Fake cat

This was a fake (low maintenance) cat at the Toji flea market. It was convincingly realistic until you got up very close.

branding irons

These branding irons were on display at the sake museum in Kobe. I’m not sure how they were used since I couldn’t read the labels or signs. I would guess they were used for marking wooden barrels — I hope not for branding the famous Kobe beef cattle.


More of the spectacular 10,000 torii gates at Fushimi Inari.


Torii at Fushimi Inari.


A pair of white foxes at Fushimi Inari. One fox holds a sacred jewel in its mouth that represents the spirit of the gods, while the other holds a cylindrical object which represents the key to a rice storehouse.

Foxes, especially the rare white ones, have long been associated with Inari. One legend says that an attractive fox pair visited the shrine so frequently that locals believed them to be messengers of Inari, and enshrined their images.

Another tale says that a pair of foxes were often seen romping in a nearby rice field and produced a healthy litter, a sign of fertility related to a bountiful rice harvest; the association between foxes and rice was thus established.

Today the shops near the shrine sell various fox-related trinkets, cookies and cakes. Restaurants feature fox-related foods such as inarizushi, a rice-stuffed pouch of deep-fried tofu, said to be a favorite food of foxes — and of Naomi. In Hawaii we simply call it “cone sushi.”

Kitsune soba (“fox noodles”) are made by adding the same fried tofu to a bowl of hot noodles in broth and is popular throughout Japan.

Other culinary treats include small birds marinated in shoyu (soy sauce) and roasted on bamboo spits. A tiny sparrow can be purchased for 420 yen, a quail for 700 yen. (We didn’t partake of these special treats.)

Small torii

Small torii stored on a rack. These are used to place on altars…

Altar with torii

…such as this one.


In Arashiyama the Hozu River is apparently called the Oui River just to the west of the famous old wooden bridge Togetsukyo (“Moon-Crossing Bridge,” just out of view to the right of this scene) and the Katsura River east of it. The fishermen in the yellow boat in the background are fishing using commorants. Sometimes, at night, they use lanterns to attract the fish. They put rings around the commorants’ necks to keep them from swallowing the fish before they can get them into the boat. I hope that the commorants are allowed to eat some fish afterwards as payment for their work.

Edison plaque

There is a shrine just south of the old wooden bridge Togetsukyo that is apparently dedicated to electricity. This plaque in the wall honors “to-[dash]-ma-su-a-ru-ba-e-de-so-n” (Thomas Alva Edison).


The Zen temple complex Tenryuji in Arashiyama contains this startling Daruma image, even more startling if you happen to be visiting on a rainy day and are wearing a red rain slicker with a hood, as happened to one of Naomi’s professors at the Stanford Japan Center.


This wall in Tenryuji attractively incorporates some recycled roof tiles.