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December 21, 2005

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    HOUSE KEEPING: Remember when you click on the pictures in "Where's Johnny Jet," they will open up in another window. Just click the "x"(close) in each picture to get back to the newsletter. This should alleviate complaints about closing Johnny Jet. Thanks again for your support, and remember: If you book trips on the web, please go through JohnnyJet.com. (It will save you money).

    "Maps of Johnny's travels courtesy of MyTripJournal.com. Start a travel website of your own for free now."

    Check Out Johnny Jet's New Blog!
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    Last week we left off in beautiful Kinosaki, Japan. This week we slowly make our way to Kyoto, in hopes of meeting a real-life geisha or maiko (I am on an exclusive "Memoirs of a Geisha” tour).

    Leaving Kinosaki, we got picked up in a phat new van. This thing was sweet! It had soft red velvet seats that could swivel around, making for a congenial atmosphere. A few of us hung out in the back and shared travel stories, while we admired the picturesque scenery passing by. Thirty minutes into the trip we made our first stop: Stork Park in Toyooka City. We were there to check out their 118 wild Oriental white storks. They are an endangered species, with supposedly only 2,000 remaining worldwide. This is a peaceful place for storks (and visitors) to roam around in. What’s great about this place -- besides the many acres of lush grounds -- is that the workers help the storks breed, then reintroduce them back into the wild. Admission is free, and they are closed Mondays. For more information, check out the official Toyooka City Hyogo Prefecture (jurisdiction) website at city.toyooka.lg.jp. Warning: Like most Japanese websites, there is no English button, and web translators don’t work for this site.

    The storks were amazing creatures and I am glad I got to see them. But I’m not a big bird watcher, and after 15 minutes I was ready to hit the road. We were there for at least an hour, though, before jumping back on the bus. Our next stop, 30 minutes down the road, was Izushi town. I could’ve spent a lot more time there. Izushi town is famous for three things: the Izushi Castle, the Shinko Ro Tower, and Izushi Soba (buckwheat noodles). The Castle is built on a hill, with 37 bright red torii gates leading to a shrine. The Shinko Ro Tower is located near the main castle gate, and is regarded as the symbol of Izushi. These are both nice to see, but we were there for one reason: to eat the local specialty. These cold, thin buckwheat noodles are typically served on five (count ‘em) tiny Izushi ware dishes. They come with a sweet soy sauce, and a raw egg to make for a tasty dipping sauce. There are many places to get these popular noodles, because Izushi has 50 soba restaurants. Some even offer cooking classes, so you can make your own soba at home. We ate lunch at the highly regarded Shokaku Tanakaya. The cost was 850 yen ($8.50). Don’t just eat and run -- make sure to walk around the cute town, and check out the shops. Everyone is super-friendly.

    Just in case you want to see what a Japanese McDonald’s looks like, here are a couple of pictures (the bold blue links in this paragraph). I know what you’re thinking: What a pathetic American tourist, going to McDonald’s overseas. I couldn’t agree with you more. I hate to see American fast food chains on foreign ground (actually I hate to see them in most places, except when I’m starving on the highway). But I was at this one for a good reason. We were driving two hours to Miyamacho, and our tour guide asked if anyone needed a bathroom break. Of course everyone raised their hands (it must have been all the sake at lunch). You know where we pulled over. And you probably guessed that someone in our group waiting around for the bathroom had to order French fries for everyone to experience. I’m ashamed to say I had one (okay, 20). And they were darn good.

    We arrived in Miyamacho (also known as Miyama Town), which is famous for its thatched houses. There are over 250 in this area -- more than any other place in Japan. Miyama means "beautiful mountain,” which is fitting because this place is located in the mountains of the Kyoto Prefecture. Our first stop was to visit an important Japanese architectural heritage site, the village of Kita. It has the biggest concentration of thatched roofs in Miyama: 32 out of 50 houses are thatched. These things are pretty cool, though I wouldn’t want to live in one. The oldest house was built in 1796, so there is plenty of history here. If you want to learn more and see what life is like on the inside stop by The Miyama Kayabuki Art Museum. They’ve got everything from old farming tools to paintings with Miyama themes. Admission is 500 yen ($5).

    That night we checked into Hotel Kajikaso. Kajikaso is 1,000 feet in the mountains, alongside the tranquil Yura River. From the outside you would swear you were in Vermont, and inside it looks and feels like a ski lodge. But then you walk into your room. BANG -- another Japanese-style inn! That’s right: a minimalist room with white walls, tatami (straw carpet), a very low table, a couple of pillows to sit on, a TV with bad reception, and a large window. I didn’t even bother asking where the bed was, because I knew it would mysteriously appear after dinner. The rooms here don’t have bathrooms, though I was fortunate to have a sink in my room (most didn’t). Using the facilities required a walk down the hallway, to both a western and Japanese-style toilet (a hole in the ground). Don’t forget to put on your bathroom slippers (in the middle of the night, that’s difficult to remember). Breakfast, dinner (you better like seafood) and use of the hot springs are included in the room rates.

    There was no entering the wrong bath at this place, because both the men’s and women’s spas are clearly marked. Both also have an indoor and outdoor hot spring (the water temperature was 104). After my hot, relaxing and uneventful bath, I returned to my room only to find nothing had changed – there was no sign of a bed. At the last inn, when I came back from my bath the furniture (a table) in my room was pulled to the side, and my bed was laid out in the middle of the floor. Fortunately, the walls at this place are super thin so my when my neighbor (and colleague) heard me panic (I must’ve been talking out loud, perhaps even swearing), I heard a loud, disgusted voice say, "Johnny Jet, stop your whining and open your closet door. Pull out your bed (a futon), your little bean bag pillows, your sheet and comforter, and make your bed like everyone else.” I froze with my mouth open and thought, "Damn, am I that high maintenance?” Then I realized she was just giving me attitude to get back for playing a trick on her when we first arrived (it’s a long story, but it was hilarious).

    Making my bed took 45 seconds. I gotta say, it was surprisingly comfortable. When I was done I said out loud "arigato” (thank you), then turned out the light. As I lay on my back looking out the window at the bright stars and full moon, listening to the trees dance in the wind and the Yura river flow nearby, I heard my neighbor through the wall make up some crazy Japanese sentence that even I knew didn’t make sense. I asked, "What the heck is that supposed to mean?” She said,"Just like on the old Waltons TV show, ‘Good night John Boy.’” It was fitting, because with the surreal setting I almost felt like I was in a performance. So when I said "ah, sank u berry much,” I wasn’t just talking to her.

    Merry Christmas,
    Johnny Jet

    Next week: Kyoto! *Please tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!


  • Toyooka City website
  • Izushi Town website
  • Hotel Kajikaso
  • "Memoirs of a Geisha Tour” offered by travel consultant Kintetsu International, the Japan National Tourist Organization, Random House and Sony Pictures. The tour will concentrate on the Japanese city of Kyoto, where the story is set. Priced from $1,229 per person, double, the tour includes round-trip airfare from Los Angeles (LAX), five nights’ accommodations at the New Miyako hotel in Kyoto and a full-day sightseeing tour of Kyoto with lunch. Airfare from New York (JFK) and Chicago (ORD) also can be arranged. A two-day supplemental program, available for $763 per person, includes visits to some of the locations in the movie. For more information, click JapanTravelInfo.com/Tours


  • Frommer's Japan
  • Lonely Planet Tokyo
  • Etiquette Guide to Japan: Know the Rules...that Make the Difference
  • Memoirs of a Geisha : A Novel (paperback)
  • Memoirs of a Geisha (Hardcover)
  • Lost In Translation DVD
  • Little Adventures in Tokyo : 39 Thrills for the Urban Explorer
  • The Rough Guide to Japan, Third Edition (Paperback)

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    • That was the most hilarious thing I have read in a LONG time. I am in tears from laughing so hard, literally! Sounds like quite an experience you had. I still love reading your weekly newsletters and seeing all the photos...nice job. We are still living in Barcelona and our excursion company is doing well. We are just in the process of opening a travel center, where we'll still sell our excursions, as well as others, and provide a number of other valuable services to incoming travelers. We are having a great time! Tracy H – Barcelona, Spain
    • Thank you for sharing your experience(s) in Japan! My 6 foot 200+ pound husband actually broke one of those stools at an inn in Nara. He said he just piled up the pieces into a neat pile. Our son enjoys recounting that story! Your story brought back some fond memories of our trip. Thanks! Linda Temple - Granbury, TX
    • Loved the newsletter-it made me laugh out loud! Also made me think of my trip to Japan and all the "gaffes" that I made culturally trying not to be the ugly American. My on-sen experience was fun, too. Actually, now I want to go back. I know you will enjoy Kyoto--it is both beautiful and fascinating. Enjoy. A. Fisher, Brunswick, GA
    • Not often that I find this level of humor in a Frommers Newsletter. Good job Johnny! Skip Foster - Pensacola, Florida
    • I think this is a great story with terrifically good humorous writing. I’d like more concrete description, though—more on what the ryokan was like; was there a garden off the balcony, what color walls, how high ceilings, what kind of food service, what kind of food, what rules--could you wander around or did you have to stay in your room--noisy or quiet, how much? The personal experiences were conveyed beautifully, but the Japanese experiences weren’t so enlightening. Thanks…. Doris S - Washington, DC
    • Cute! A good way of reminding people to do their homework and study up a little bit on the language and culture of the country they're going to visit before they leave home... Debra Hartmann - Silver Spring, MD
    • Great article! Haven't been in Japan in thirty years, but brought back many fond memories. I forwarded it to my daughter, who is planning a trip to Japan in the future. Excellent tip on notifying bank of travel plans. Merry Christmas, Jim H - Niagara Falls, NY
    • Brings back fond memories of my trip to Japan ten years ago - I visited the fishing village of Shimoda and stayed in a Ryokan very similar to the one pictured. Fortunately my onsen experience was uneventful. W.M. -
    • I thoroughly enjoyed it .... was both informative and amusing. Keep it up and am looking forward to your next report. Bob H - Kaneohe, Hi
    • I love getting your emails each week. I don't usually give feedback because with us being new parents, there just isn't any time, but this book has been my favorite for quite a few years, so when I saw that you were doing a tour, I was thrilled. This, by far, is my favorite adventure of yours and can't thank you enough for sharing it. It is exactly as I had imagined, only I had no idea you had a size 13 foot. :) Thanks again! Amber B – Atlanta, GA
    • This week’s newsletter is HILARIOUS. I’m laughing with you, not at you. Louise O - New York, NY
    • That remote fishing village - Youri - I've seen it somewhere before. I think it is the same town where Raymond Burr saw Godzilla rise up from the sea. Big Vin - Staten Island, NY
    • Johnny – very good portrayal of Japanese life – brings back many memories of Japan. Japan is a country of culture and tradition – some of which we’ve lost here in the US. Everyone in Japan learns English but are often reluctant to speak fearful they will use the wrong words. G.O. - San Diego
    • I enjoyed your ryokan visit story -- and I'm glad you can smile about the bath misadventures now. I've never been to Japan, but before my first trip to Hong Kong I made certain to learn two how to phrases are written in Chinese pictograms. "Emergency Exit". And "Men's Room". Domo arigato, Gregg Wiggins - Arlington, Virginia
    • Your newsletter is so interesting...I want to Go!!! W.S. - Holland, OH
    • Enjoyed the video and your account. Some scenes went a little too fast to savor the scene. Judy - Hawaii

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