Category Archives: typisch für Japan

die kleinen Dinge, die es so nur in Japan gibt

Stupid Things to do in Japan – Gullideckel

Man kann viel sehen in Japan in viel Sammeln in Japan. Dinge die man in Japan machen sollte sind:

  • Sehenswürdigkeiten besichtigen
  • Onsen besuchen
  • die japanische Küche erforschen
  • Sake und Shochu trinken
  • die vielen lokalen Biere probieren

Man kann in Japan verschiedene Dinge als Mitbringsel kaufen. Etwas ausgefallener sind …

  • Ema … Die kleinen Holztafeln, die man in jedem Tempel oder Schrein kaufen kann. Ich habe das für die Toyko Jissha (siehe 2012) gemacht.
  • Tenugi … kleine Handtücher. Jeder der Kendo macht kennt sie.
  • Tempelbücher … Es gibt kleine Walfahrtsbücher. Gegen (viel) Geld werden in Tempel und Schreinen Texte und Stempel hineingeschrieben, die den Besuch belegen.
  • Stempel … Das ist ganz speziell und muss ich erklären

Bei jeder Sehenswürdigkeit gibt es einen großen Stempel mit dem man die Eintrittskarte, den Informationsflyer oder irgendetwas stempeln kann. Man kann sich natürlich auch ein kleines Notizbuch oder Skizzenbuch mit gutem Papier kaufen und diese Stempel sammeln. Ich habe das in Onomichi gemacht. In Shibu-Onsen kann man ein Tenugi kaufen und beim Besuch der öffentlichen Onsen stempeln. Ich habe mittlerweile 2 solche gestempelte Handtücher.


Etwas ungewöhnlicher ist das Sammeln von Gullideckelfotos. Bei meiner ersten Reise sind mir die Hydrantendeckel in Tokyo aufgefallen. Auf einer der folgenden Reise bemerkte ich, dass jede Stadt ihr eigenes Desgin hat. Und nicht nur bei Gullideckeln, sondern auch bei normalen Kanalisationsdeckeln. Hier eine Auswahl von 2012:


(( Ich werde diese Seite irgendwann man vernüftig wegsortieren und ausbauen. ))

Fire Departments in Japan

The fire department in Japan is maybe the best equiped fire department in the world. Like in America they have pumper, engines and ladders. Beside that there are exist special vehicles and units like super pumper, HazMat or the Hyper Rescue Team. But the size of the standard fire car is, let me say it this way: cute. Most of the cars or not bigger like an old German TSF (size of a delivery van). That is for a simple practical reason. In Tokyo you can see a lot of streets with 8 lanes or more, but also very narrow alleys that or just wide enough for a normal car. In Lübeck we have similar streets. Here this is always a one way road, but not in Japan. Mostly old shopping streets are that small. A big fire truck would get stuck at the first shop. But not these cute little cars with the short wheel base. They are extremly versatile.

The look of this shrinked fire trucked is chaotic. In Germany all the equipment and even the pump is coverd by big shutters. At this cars most of the stuff is visible. But there is also a trend to compartments with shutters. The most noticeable thing is the suction hose. It is one peace and mounted to the pump (like on the picture). So far I never saw a portable pump, therefore the car itself has to be positioned at the lake.

Beside the normal fire trucks there many special vehicles. They are mainly for desasters. Japan does not have a THW (Germany) but many natural desasters. All the work is the job of the fire department. Because of the euarthquake they have many equipment for finding and rescueing buried survivors. And you have to add the playful nature of the Japanese. The have many robots, like a estinguish robot.

There are also cute details beside the cars. Hydrants are underground, like in Germany. But there is a big sign above them, so you can see them from far away. The signs are also useful for car drivers. Like in Germany parking on a hydrant is prohibited. In fine is very high compared to Germany and they check it. Oh yes. But avoiding a ticket is easy because of the big signs.

Here is the top of an hydrant. They look different in each city or city area. I really think about starting a picture gallery.

The connection to the riser pipes in high buildings are always in front of the building and easy to access. They not hide behind the dumpster. Most of them are all chrome and polished. They always look like right out of the box.

And those exist in Japan too: public fire extinguisher. In Germany they wouldn’t survive one party weekend, because there is always a stupid idiot that will destroy them just for fun. The Japanese are different. Even if they are young and totally drunk, they are never that antisocial like German teenagers. It doesn’t matter how hard and wild the party. This equipment is off-limits. (Maybe this is the fact that they could lose there job or beeing expelled from the university. In Japan you can still lose your face and become intolerable for your company.)

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Onsen (part III) – Rules

It doesn’t if it is a onsen, ofuro, yu, rotenburo or the public bath room in a hotel: There are some very simple rules to follow. You should follow them unless you want to look like a complete idiot or be expelled from the bath. The rules are very simply. No need to worry.

  • If you are in Rome (Japan), do it like the Romans (Japanese).

This is not a real rule, but more like a very good advise. Be always low-key (Japanese appreciate self-effacement) und observe how the other behave. You will learn very quick how to act properly. If there is personal around, ask them for guidance. They will help.

Why? Japanese appreciate if foreign people try to learn, understand and follow their rules. They know that it is impossible to learn all the rules. It is important that you try, and if you do mistake, learn and do not redo the mistake again. Because the rules are important for Japanese, they will help you. This rule doesn’t aplly only for onsen, but for all in Japan.

  • Take of your shoes.

Like in Japanese houses you take of the shoes at the entrance. The border line is a smal step close to the door. In big sento like the Oedo onsen in Tokyo will will change into indoor slippers, that are always to small for European feet.

  • Take a shower before you enter the bath tub.

The bath tub is not for cleaning yourself but only for heat up and relax. You have to take shower before and after bathing in the tub. Take a shower very thorougly. There should no soap or shampoo be left on your body.

  • Sit down in the shower.

During the shower you sit on a small stool. Do not stand in the shower and avoid to hit other people with your water. There is a Japanese basic rule behind it: Never ever bother other people with your existance.

  • The small towel always stays out of the bath tub.

If you see a Japanese with a towel, you can be sure that this is not the washing towel from the shower. But there are also many Japanese ignoring this rule. This doesn’t mean that you should do the same. The best position for the towel (not the one from the shower) is on the head. In winter time in a rotenburo this has the advantage that the head is protected against the cold.

  • After the bath towel yourself thoroughly before going to the changing room.
  • Remember: It is a bathing house not a swimming pool.

You take a bath. You are not swimming around or jump into the water. You take the bath naked. Therefore men and women are seperated.

  • In most onsen people with a tatoo are not allowed to enter.

This is due to the history of tatoos in Japan. Only Yakuza (Japanese mafia) had tatoos. This ban also include tine tatoos on your shoulder or ankle and also applies to foreign people. There are onsen that are very strict and other that don’t mind a small western style tatoo. But one thing is sure: Never start an argument. An no is a no.

Of course there are sento that allow tatoos. But these are run by the yakuza. If you take a bath there, you are in company of mobster. I really doubt that you will find such a sento or even get into it.

  • It is also not allowed to enter if you have a skin desease or an open wound.

There are many more of these rules. But they are minor and it is not a big deal if you don’t know them. Just learn them by experience. But if you don’t obey the rules above you can get yourself into big trouble. If you did a mistake: Say that you are sorry and promise to behave better in the future. (Notice that not knowing the rules is also bad behaviour in Japan.) Most of the Japanese are reacting positive to an excuse, if they see that your are honestly sorry. Use this situation for small talk. You usually et more information and advices how to behave correctly and not drop an clanger.

Awesome Rotenburo

Netsu no Yu (熱の湯)

Stay away from Netsu-no-yu. These are extremly hot onsen. Even a normal one is a challange for western people, because of temperature between 108 and 113°F. A Nestu-no-yu brings it up to 130°F. The water may be cooled down but it is still to hot for unexperienced people. If you are not used to this kind of heat you will give up if your foot is touching the water or you may faint because the circulation collapse.


Another good advice: Sake and onsen do not match, even if they have the same temperature. There are many anime and manga where you see people in the tub with sake floating around in a wooden bucket. Beside this bucket itself is not allowed in the tub it is also a stupid idea: The heat of the water makes you getting up sooner or later to cool down, but the sake at these temperature makes you sit down before you faint. This really is a challange for your body you shouldn’t underestimate. I tried it. Believe me: It’s a stupid idea.

And never try to bring a camera into a sento and take pictures. This is not only a very big fail on good behaviour but can bring you in deep trouble as well. It is a felony. All my picuteres were taken with the ok of the owner and after alle other guests left the onsen, usually after closing time If you want to take picture, ask politely at the front desk and let yourself accompanied by a member of the staff.

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Onsen (part II) – terms around onsen

A Ofuro (風呂) is just a simple bath room with a tub. Hotels use this term sometimes to indicate that they provide more than a simple shower room. A Rotenburo (露天風呂) is bath tub outside under the free sky.

The terms “Private Rotenburo” and “Private Onsen” I have to explain. You take the bath naked. A onsen is a bath room and not a swimming pool. Therefore men and women are strictly seperated into different sections. The only exception is for small children that are accompanied by only one parent. If you traveling with your partner, even if you are married, you cannot take a bath together … beside in a private onsen/rotenburo. Like the names says, it is private. If it is in use there is a small sign at the door. If so, it is off limits for everyone else. Sometimes you find the term “family rotenburo”. I assume that this also stands for a big tub for the whole familiy.

A Yukata is the bath robe. Nothing more, nothing less. They provide them in hotels and you can wear them inside the hotel. In a hot spring resort you will see many Japanese that are walking around in the city wearing a yukata. I did it to in Shibu/Yudanaka in 2004 and Sounkyo in 2010. Very comfy. You also wear the yukata if you go to a shrine or temple festival or a firework, unless it is not that cheap blue and white version of the hotel. The yukata is a bath robe and also the informel version of the kimono.


Onsen as a holiday experience

For Japanese onsen is more than just taking a bath. They create a complete holiday weekend around it; Friday to Sunday just relaxing in a onsen. Japanese have on 10 free days in a year (or even less). Therefore a weekend in an onsen is worth a lot. This is also the reason why theses places are so crowded at the weekend.

There are also many stereotypes around the myth of onsen. Specially if you travel with your girlfriend *hint*hint* Traditional ryokans do not allow to share a room if you are not married. Sometimes these rules are also apply for “private rotenburo”. There you are allown but you are still naked and not married.

“Onsen during wintertime” was a priority on my list. This is one of the stereotypes. 2013 I realized this point. It was awesome. 17°F and I was sitting in the hot water of an rotenburo and enjoying the snow fall. I just skipped the sake because of bad experience in the past.


It doesn’t matter if you are looking for an onsen (温泉) or a sento (銭湯), you should look for the following character: 湯 and ゆ. Both are read “yu” are translated “water”. Those character you will find on the flags next to the entrance door. If you want to take a bath, look for those characters.

Entrance und changing places

I already mentioned that the bath is seperated by sex. Therefore you have seperated changing rooms and entrance doors. They are always marked very clear. In a hotel there are sometimes noren with different color: blue = men; red = women. Additionally thery are Kanji printed on the noren or a small sign next to the door: 男 = otoko, man; 女 = onna, woman. Smaller onsen may a central entrance, with the ticket counter, and split behind this first door.

There is one specialty that can lead to embarrassing situation: Onsen may change sides! There are two possibilities: They chance sides once a day or twice a day. Usually once during closing time at night and in the afternoon. So be careful. Don’t use automatically the same door in the evening that you used in the morning or the same door you used yesterday. Always check out the noren and the signs. In hotels you will be informed about it during your check-in.

More on the next page …

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Onsen (温泉, 湯 or simply ゆ) is the embodiment of the japanese bathing culture. Translated it simply means “hot spring”. It is a term, for that many website are available that are much better than this one. But this blog about Japan is not complete without its own version …

Because of all these active vulcanos, Japan is covered with hot water springs. They are everywhere. My first contact with them was on my first trip in 2004 outside a city called Naruko. There was a spring in the middle of the forest. I burned my fingers. The water came out of the stone boiling. This area is called “cold hell”.

Also in 2004 I was in Yudanaka. A small town one hour outside of Nagano. I booked the Ryokan by accident as a compromise between Nagano and the mountain area. The place was more famous than I knew that time. Do you know the bathing monkeys? They live in Yudanaka. Right next to Yudanaka is a town called Shibu Onsen (I really need to scan the slides I took in 2004). This place has 9 “public onsen” and nice narrow streets and old houses.


Most people in Europe think about tiny bath houses in Tokyo and Kyoto when they hear the word Onsen. But these are called Sento (銭湯). For Japanese a onsen is a bath house with hot water from a natural hot spring. But I must admit, I still working on the details. If you are in Tokyo should visit Oedo Onsen. It is located in Odaiba an is really relaxing. But if I am correct, it is a Sento, but like I said, I don’t know for sure.

There onsen in the forest that are nothing more than an old hut without electricity. There are onsen that are a big spa and high entrance fees. (I prefer the first version). There are onsen that are barely more than a wooden tub. There are onsen with an outdoor pool for more than 500 people.

Many ryokan are advertising that they have an onsen. If so, you should reduce your expectations. In the most situations this onsen are nothing more than a big bath room for many people. But who cares. You were not in Japan, if you never went to an onsen. If there is a wooden tub made of cedar and the essential smell of the wet hot wood is filling the are, that moment is close to be a perfect moment.

Onsen are thermal hot springs that are said to have a healing effect. There are whole town built around a single hot spring that are living be tourism, mostly older people. But there are young Japanese too. There not theere for the medical effect but more for the relaxing effect of the onsen.

How do you recognize a real onsen?

(I) In a real onsen you will find an official paper of a water analysis. An minerals that are in the water, are listed. And yes, there is also acid sulfur. At all onsen you will recognize the smell of sulfur. Don’t stay to long in the water or you will smell the same. Just stay a few minutes and rinse off the water afterwards. This something you can spend the whole with.

(II) Japanese also have a method to check out the quailty of an onsen, specially in hotels: “Check where the water is going”. Every onsen has a permantent inflow of hot water. So there also water running over the edge of the tub. In Shibu Onsen this water is running down the floor, out to the street and down to the river. That is a good onsen. The less good onsen collect the water seperate from the water in the showers. It is not for sure but they may(!) recycle the water; heat it up and out it back into the tub. Japanese called this kind a Ryokan-Onsen. If you find this disgusting, think about that: What do you think hot tubs in the western world do?<

(III) If the water is crystal clear, get sceptical. Usually even the clearest hot spring have a color because of all the minerals. It shouldn’t look like tap water. There are also onsen with opaque, sometimes even look like mud.


pH-hautneutral ?
pH neutral?

No way! In fact, you don’t want to know the pH value. In 2013 I was in Kusatsu Onsen. This place is conneted to Bietigheim-Bissingen (tiny town in South Germany). A doctor form there was checking the medical effects of onsen. He also measured the pH value. Kusatsu has a 2,4. That is not that far away from battery acid. Nails made of plain steel dissolve completely within two weeks. The even have a factory at the end of the village where the collect the onsen water in neutralize it before releasing it into the river.

The very acid water is the reason why your skin is so smooth after bath. The dead dry skin is etched away. But don’t worry. The body can withstand acid very well.

more information at wikipedia: Onsen, Sento
more links: Oedo Onsen Homepage

More on the next page …

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The Obsession “Eiffel Tower”

Siegmund would have it’s own explaination for the fact, that there is an Eiffel tower in every major city in Japan. You cannot imagine a big city without it. Radio towers are everywhere in Japan. But you cannot image a big japanese city without at least one special radio tower. This one will have a viewing platform and a shape like the Eiffel tower in Paris. The mother of all towers is Tower Tower, even if it was one of the last towers, that was built. Tokyo Tower is 333m high and it really lookes like the Eiffel Tower. But it is 9m higher and totally orange. It was built in 1958 and became the landmark of the city and still is the 3rd highest tower built of steel.

Tokyo Tower

height 332,6m, observation deck at 150m and 250m; architect: Tachū Naitō, opened 1958

He is one of the highest buildings in Tokyo and was the highest radio tower until 2012. At this year the Sky Tree with an height of 634m was opened. He has the potential to succed in beein the landmark of the whole city. It’s design is unique. He represents the Tokyo of the 21st century and will get it’s own blog entry.

Tokyo Tower is 9m higher than the original but only half the weight (4000 tons). But why built it out of steel and not concrete. In the 50ies they decided for steel because it is more stable in the fact of an earthquake. If you use steel it is obvious to decide for a similar shape like the Eiffel tower, that became the blue print for steel towers.

The family

Tokyo Tower is only one of several towers built in the 50ies. Tokyo Tower is just the biggest one. Here is family (the part of it I already visited). You can see the similarity. They were all designed by the architect Tachū Naitō and have a viewing platform.

Sapporo TV Tower (さっぽろテレビ塔)
height 147,2m, observation deck at 90.4m; architect: Tachū Naitō, opened in 1957

Sapporo Toweri is older than Tokyo Tower. He is like the older brother. The reason was the time to built up Tokyo Tower. It just took so long. He has two observation decks. The lower one at 90,4m is a big souvenir shop with windows. In 1961 they mounted a digital watch. Saporro Tower is located in the Odori-Park, that is the origin of the street coordintes in Saporro (the streets in Saporro are numbered in East, West, South, North). At night the tower is illuminated in orange, like the big brother in Tokyo.

Nagoya TV Tower (名古屋テレビ塔)
height 180m, observation deck at 90m and 100m; architect: Tachū Naitō, opened in 1954

It is the oldest radio tower in Japan that has the shape of the Eiffel Tower and is also designed by Tachu Naito. It’s height is 180m and the observation deck is at 90m. The specialty is a free deck at 100m (roof of the viewing platform), called Sky Balcony. You can take the stairway (310 steps), if you want. There are restaurants and souvenir shops at the 30m level. The tower is located in the city center of Nagoya in the Hisaya Odori Park.

Beppu Tower (別府タワー)
height 100m, observation deck at 55m; opened on May 10, 1957

Beppu also has a tower, a tiny one. It was built at the same time as Tokyo Tower. The foundation of this tower is concrete building. He was built on the roof. It is very close to the tiny beach of Beppu on the east side of the main road that leads from the train station to the water line.

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Koban – More than a police box

Koban, with a long o, is a police box; a tiny police station with usually one or two officers. The boxes are a big benefit for tourists. They are everywhere. Every block has a least one. Because there are no house number (and if there are, there is no logical order), the koban is possibly the only place where you can get help to find the house you are looking for. Sometimes there are street maps that will help you. Finding a koban is easier.

Koban in Ueno

Koban are also helpful if you got yourself lost in Tokyo. The description of the way back to the hotel always is to complex for my knowledge of Japanese. I tried it and gave up. Therefore it was easiert to ask for the next koban on the way. Then I asked the next koban for the next koban, and so on. Usually there is a koban every quarter mile.

Finding a koban

A koban is easy to find. At night there are two red lights. Ok, at daylight it is a little more difficult. Usually there is a police officer standing in front of the koban. Looking for an American cop? Donut shop. Looking for a German Cop? Döner Shop. Looking for a Japanese Cop? Standing in front of a koban. Typically Japanese. Often you can also see the white bicylces.

The frog

Some koban are really well camouflaged. The one in Taito had a big japanese police stick mounted on the wall. It more looked like a souvenir shop. On Ginza the koban was some kind of an attraction. There was a big plastic frog on the roof. (The frog was gone 2010.) Because police boxes are everywhere, they are also the aim of architects., like this one in Ueno park.

More about this topic, if I have more pictures and informations.

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