The Churaumi Aquarium at Ocean Expo Park (the site of the 1975 World Expo) in Nago, Okinawa has a lot of local aquatic life.  The main attraction are a trio of whale sharks.  Japan currently has five whale sharks in captivity, while the rest of the world combined has eight.  The three in Okinawa are often the focus of animal rights groups because of their status as endangered species as well as the fact that they are ocean-dwelling creatures in a small tank.

The critter posing for me in this photo is the giant Okinawan Spiny Lobster.  I wanted to eat him, along with the Japanese people muttering "美味しそう。。。" ("Looks delicious...") behind me.
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Not all of Okinawan traditional culture has disappeared beneath kitsch; within Shuri Castle, there's a tearoom that serves jasmine tea and traditional Ryukyu Kingdom-era pastries. They also give out sheets explaining how the cookies were made.

The ones with the rippled edges are called chinsuko, and are a popular souvenir to bring back to families and coworkers.  These are what I decided to bring.
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Most of the food to be found around Okinawa is American, or American-influened.  At this cafe, there was a Mint Oreo Shake on the menu we had to try.  It was expensive, but pretty good.   :o)
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The areas around the military bases in Okinawa are a sad study in how poor areas adapt to suit wealthy tourists. Okinawan culture is largely hidden behind big, shiny American displays. This shopping area, Depot Island, was new and obviously targeted toward those from the base, seen in clothing and shoe sizes available, for example. Still, it had a charming feel to it as I explored the area near my hotel.
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Yokohama Chinatown has many attractions.  The ones that seem to catch on the best in Japan are those that lean toward the cute.

This パンダマン (panda bun) is filled with pork and is a classic Chinese food turned Japanese snack.  In convenience stores steamed buns filled with curry, pizza sauce and cheese, or taco meat, cheese and seasoning can be bought for about ¥120.  Of course, the typical and convenience store varieties aren't adorned with sad panda faces.
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In Tokyo there is sometimes little else to do than go shopping.  There are thousands of stores selling anything you could possibly want.  Surrounded by so much consumerism there are often stores with products you couldn't imagine people buying (and yet people do!).  But once in a while those same shops have some of the most interesting decor.  If they were selling these chandeliers I might have considered buying one; but they weren't for sale.  On the contrary, I was scolded for taking photos of the products beneath the chandelier while checking my photos.  Rest assured, salesperson, I had zero interest in photographic your products, but you may want to rethink your sales strategy.
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While I've shown it before, Christmas cake is something I couldn't skip taking a photo of on Christmas.  Plus, it's a lot more photogenic than the McDonald's chicken we had...

This came together in about 20 minutes, including whipping the cream (though I had help with that while I washed and cut the strawberries.

The powdered sugar is the most snow I will see this year.   (-_-);
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Maid cafés are a very well-known eccentricity in Japan. Young women dress as maids and cater to customers' whims. While my friend was visiting from the US, we decided to go to one in my neighborhood. We ordered the "Maid's Choice" dessert and this came to the table.  Later when I ordered tea to go with it the maid stirred the cream and sugar in for me while having us all make cute stirring sounds.

You're not allowed to take photos of the maids unless you pay for the in-house polaroids or the printed headshots sold at the register, but you can take all the photos of your food as you want once you warn them that you'll be taking photos of the food, and the maids will take your picture with your food if you ask (of course, they may ask you if you want one--they are supposed to be maids, after all).
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Kanteibyo is one of the more famous places in Yokohama Chinatown. What most people probably don't notice are the lovely steps leading up to the temple.  If you look carefully you can see the glowing red lanterns hanging from the temple behind the iron lace gates.

Despite being cold and closed, Chinatown never seems to disappoint.
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Had my signup lesson for my cooking school today.  This here pound cake is packed with Earl Grey tea powder and basted in rum.  Probably shouldn't eat it for breakfast before going to work, but I surely will!
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Melon soda is something that has certainly never caught on in the US, but with this unnatural color, I don't know why not.  Despite the sickly color, it tastes quite good and goes rather well with yakiniku, fast food, and all manner of unhealthy eats.

Unlike ramune, the soda drink, this one is not considered just a child's drink.
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In Japan you can often find critters called tanuki (Japanese raccoon dogs) in front of small shops.  This one was in front of a ramen shop in Tokyo. He's an interesting blend of older, humorous tanuki with exaggerated...erm, bits...and the modern versions that are a bit more vague.

They're symbolic of many things, but luck and other good omens, as well as a bit of mischief are the main ones.
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Found this in a garden in Arashiyama in Kyoto. Warm details like these can make you forget how cold you feel at the moment.
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In Kita-Senju station, there was a tree of stuffed animals.  I don't remember where the stuffed animals came from or why, but I suspect it had something to do with the fabric stand that was nearby, selling fabric swatches and make-your-own-stuffed-animal kits.
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The last day at my old office building, so here's a parking structure near the old building.  Apparently they needed to vent the building (and possibly temperature control too) so they built a large fan system on the outside.  Due to space constraints, it is very flat.
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For a country that doesn't know anything about Christmas, there sure are a lot of Christmas trees here.  Pretty ones too.
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A couple weeks ago I saw a nice cowl in a shop, but after looking at the price decided to make my own.  It's been a challenge to knit and has certainly broadened my knitting skills. Here's the work in progress.
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Japanese culture has absorbed many Western customs due to globalization, etc.  One is Christian weddings.  But as you can see from these dresses, they don't necessarily resemble weddings as we know them.  There are chapels set up all over the place because Christian weddings are photogenic, but it's more about wearing multiple outfits and being fashionable--most brides will wear a white dress or have a traditional Japanese wedding followed by a "wedding party" where she wears a second (and maybe a third) dress.  As far as I can tell, the party dress isn't usually white and most women look like pink powder puffs instead of brides.  Pretty pink powder puffs, but still.

As a side note, I do really like this black dress, just not as a wedding dress.

In any case, that's what happens when cultures collide superficially.
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It's easy to imagine this shrine is old, built when the tree was still a sapling.  It makes you wonder whether the person who put it there suspected the tree would take over.
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This mochi is a special style kept on a shrine at New Year called kagami mochi (鏡餅). Typically a bitter orange is put on top to finish the presentation.  The bitter orange, called daidai () is believed to promote long life because it also means "several generations."

These are storebought versions; homemade ones are two rice cakes stacked on top of each other instead of the tiered mold.  The commercial versions add decoration to make up for the processing, perhaps.
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Mochi, or pounded rice cake, is a classic treat year-round in Japan, but particularly at New Year.  In order to make it by hand you put rice in a bowl and beat it with a hammer.  This was on display in front of a mochi shop.  Notice it's stamped with 福, the symbol for good fortune at New Year.
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Today was my company's end of year party, or Bonenkai.  The food was pretty good but I forgot to take photos of most of it and others didn't turn out.  It seems I'm doomed to take pictures of desserts only.

Frozen cream puffs that were rather flavorless, but looked nice when plated.
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Christmas cake is wildly popular in Japan.  While not something I'd ever heard of at home, I'm a mild fan of it now too.  For most Japanese people, Christmas cake is ordered in advance and picked up on Christmas Eve, along with fried chicken ordered from the local KFC, Mos Burger or other fast food joint or grocery store.

Here are some Christmas cakes in a variety of shapes, flavors and sizes.
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The fruit in this shop was so unnaturally shiny, I couldn't tell if the persimmons were persimmons, apples or tomatoes at first.  Sometimes having perfect produce goes a bit too far.
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The dedication to following a theme is admirable here.  Instead of getting a real skull, someone made this out of wood.

I wonder if it was more expensive than the real thing would've been...?
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Kita-senju has an interesting atmosphere.  One notable thing that may not always be readily noticeable is the themed shop gates.  When closed the street is lined with fairy tales and nursery rhymes.  Here's Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.  I like that the dwarves are basically elves.
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A typical residential alley in Tokyo.  Cars drive down this...
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Little pottery shops like this are fun to look at, but are usually super expensive.  When pottery is handmade it tends to get expensive, and these alcohol cups and bottles are likely no exception (I'm ashamed to admit I didn't go in to check...).
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When there are Christmas trees all around, it's unnerving to see autumn leaves still clinging firmly to the trees.

But here in Tokyo the leaves go when they feel like it, and sometimes that could be into January.
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Leafy ivy still green outside in December? Odd to my brain, but there it is.  Storefronts always look lovely too (vending machine reflections excluded, of course).
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Seeing natural scenes like these make me miss Michigan.  It could almost BE Michigan, if it wasn't in Yamanashi.
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The most commonly photographed and depicted autumn leaf in Japan.
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No matter where in the world, if you make a turkey and have leftovers you'll be eating them for a week.  Feeding my coworkers at lunch and still had enough to make turkey pot pie...
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This rose was the centerpiece of my table for Thanksgiving.  The photos looked so nice that I couldn't choose one.  Instead here's a collage.
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Finally put up my Christmas tree today.  Got a new 90cm tree instead of the 30cm one I had and sprung for pink and silver decorations since I've always wanted a monochromatic tree.  Pink is my color of choice lately, plus purple decorations are harder to find.
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Symbolism is really important in a lot of cultures.  These symbols are water glyphs that are believed to help protect against fires.
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Happy Thanksgiving to the Americans out there.

A friend requested I post photos of things I make. Today I went to a model lesson at a cooking school near my work. This was the resulting Christmas cake. The shiny sides are the plastic form that will mold the cream as it sets.

The lesson was fun and I plan to sign up so expect to see more Sprytely creations.
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Sometimes there are fields in people's back yards in Japan.  Even in less populous areas of the city fields take up random plots.  It doesn't always make sense.

In this case, this field is exactly where it should be, but it got me thinking about fields.
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Osaka is much more spread out and beautiful than Tokyo in the conventional sense.  It's particularly striking in Autumn.
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Last night I went to Arashiyama with my host mother to see the illuminated autumn leaves.

While the brilliant orange and red are featured at every one of these, Tenryuji also has bamboo featured at the end.  Sure it's not bright orange, but it looks lovely surrounded by the autumn colors.
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Everywhere you go certain food and drinks are relegated to specific cultures.  Wine is French, pasta Italian, fast food with the US, etc.  Of course, this is because of the origins of each thing.  In a place where it seems every other building is a restaurant, these sorts of connections are even more apparent.

In particular, English pubs are extremely popular.  To me, this is surprising because I associate Ireland more strongly with alcohol than England, but apparently not everyone feels as I do.  In any case, this is a common chain in Tokyo.
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While Japan is extremely safe, it isn't without crime.  The sign says "カメをかえしてください," which means "Please return my turtle," and is signed by Karen, a little girl.  The empty tank has been there for more than a month...
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In the country, sometimes flowers grow out of the rock walls surrounding homes or other areas.  It's not as common in Tokyo because of the upkeep (and the general lack of this type of wall), but it looks nice and brightens up the rock walls.
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Even in the cramped backstreets of the city you can find nice details in unlikely places.  This lovely iron chair and table set are on the patio of a tiny restaurant hidden in the alleys of west Shinjuku.
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Next to Saruhashi, one of the three famous bridges in Japan, this post says...something.  None of my Japanese friends could read it either.
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These flowers look great, no matter what time of year.  They were growing out of a stone wall.
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Not sure why this maple leaf turned like it did, but it wanted to pose for a photo for me.
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Dinner tonight was homemade fettuccine with white mushrooms fried in olive oil, beef medallions with asparagus and alfredo sauce.  It was good but by the time I was done with it I wasn't really hungry anymore...
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Went hiking in Yamanashi today.  We saw Mount Fuji from the summit of another [much shorter] mountain, drank spring water and saw the changing leaves.

After descending we went to see Saruhashi, one of the three most famous bridges in Japan (with Kintaikyo in Yamaguchi and Shinkyo in Tochigi).  You can't see the fabulous construction of the bridge from this photo, but the trees make up for it.
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Had a steak lunch at a small shop near the office today.  It looked so good, but was overpriced and not as good as I'd hoped.  And I smelled like grill when I went back to the office.  But it was fun to watch the chef.
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