Dolls and Castles

Before I go any further I have to give a Trinidadian “big up” to my sister Katrina who somehow has managed to survive two years in Japan raising four kids, including a baby. I witnessed first hand the bizarre things that happen here. Half the time you just wander about in a daze not sure what really is going on. People are nice, but you don’t know what they are really thinking. And the baby, she is adorable but… let’s just say I don’t plan on having any kids in the near future. After making breakfast and lunch for the kids, and getting them ready for school she has to plan the evening meal, go shopping, clean the house, do the laundry, take care of Annika, and a myriad of other chores and errands. It is amazing. She goes nonstop all day.

As if that were not enough she somehow finds time to do her art. She is currently into making these strange dolls. I find them oddly compelling. Here is an example:

She has more for viewing and purchase at her etsy site (this is like ebay but for arts and crafts). You can see them at

Back on the road, I stayed in the town of Matsumoto for a few days trying to sort out my bicycle. Here are some random shots. This old woman was dressed in a traditional kimono. She was waiting at a bus stop and let me photograph her. I either caught her in mid-blink or she was thinking, “if I just close my eyes maybe this rude gaijin will go away.”

A group of school kids passed by, all wearing their colorful red caps.

Everything is crammed together in Japan. Consequently they have a lot of mirrors so you don’t back your car into someone. I could not resist a goofy self-portrait.

I visited the castle in Matsumoto. It’s a good one. It was built in the 1500s and various daimyos lived in it during the shogun period. Interestingly, it was almost torn down in the 1800s when Japan came out of its period of isolation. The government wanted to rid the country of its old feudal past, so they destroyed many of these fine castles. One guy lobbied to protect this one and he succeeded.

Since everything is so crammed together in Japan, people build upwards. So you can have shops and restaurants several floors up in a building (in fact I am writing this in an internet cafe on the 5th floor of a building) . Very few enterprises actually open onto the ground floor. Here is a typical sign that describes the businesses in this particular building.

In fact, here is the building that houses the internet cafe. It is the orange one near the top that says 5F and 24H on it. It took me forever to figure out the kanji symbols for internet.

Cars are expensive so many people get around by bicycle. Cities usually just buy bikes and leave them at various places like train stations so if you need one you just take it and leave it for someone else at your destination.

Another woman in a kimono. They are so cool.

Why let a blank side of a building go to waste when you can plaster it with advertisements?

In Nagoya I visited another castle. This one is a fake, though. The original one burned down during bombing attacks in May, 1945. They rebuilt it like a museum.

I met these two at the castle. The Japanese women enjoy dressing up in some strange outfits. What’s with the Little Bo Peep look?

8 thoughts on “Dolls and Castles

  1. Jim April 27, 2008 / 6:46 pm

    When I visited Toyko on business I marveled at the number of bikes at subway stations, all without locks on them. I have always thought that this indicated a culture on no stealing.

    Perhaps these were city bikes, as you suggest, and needed no locks. Do you suppose that citizens would put locks on their own bikes in the city? What about graffiti?

    Great stories, Kev, I continue to look forward to reading your blog.

  2. David Szyszkoski April 28, 2008 / 2:27 am

    So what’s the plan now, are you going to try to take a bus back to Katrina and Iras place until you get your new parts in? Or are you going to find a cheap hotel to shack up in?

    I think you left your buck knife in Celia’s room. Either that or Celia is hiding something. I’m not sure if Katrina communicated that with you yet. Mom and Dad and Karl got there about a day ago and will be there for a week. I wish I was back there, it’s taking a while to adjust back to the work-home-dinner-sleep daily grind. I think my mind is still wandering around Tokyo.

    I looked at your map of your planned trip for the first time today. You are nuts.

    Regarding the last pic for those not in Japan: The fashion of the girl on the left is “Sweet Lolita” ( It seems it is “cool” to try to dress up like cute small children. The one on the right seems to be just average everyday punk. Thanks for posting the picture, I don’t think I got one that good while we were over there. Kirsten may want to use it in her scrap booking, if there isn’t a copyright on it.

    Within the next week or two I’m going to try to get a bunch of Japan pictures on my website. When I do I’ll send an e-mail to the Kilpela list.


  3. Kevin Koski April 28, 2008 / 6:42 am

    Actually most bikes seem to be locked. But they are very basic locks to keep opportunistic thieves away I guess. But Japan has a very law abiding culture. Katrina and family do not even lock their house when they go out. I found that real tough to adjust to. I definitely feel ten times safer here than wandering the streets of Lima or Medellin.

    I did see some graffiti in a few places but not much.

  4. Debbie Black April 29, 2008 / 11:31 pm

    Hi Kev –

    Not only do the Japanese build up, they build down as I’m sure you’ve discovered by now!

    I wish the city of Osaka had initiated the lend-a-bike program while I was there. It was a bit inconvenient after my bike was stolen at the subway stop, as it was a bit of a hike from my apartment to the nearest station.

    For all it’s weirdness, I loved my 2 years in Japan — there’s always something new to see, do and marvel at! My good friend, Akiko, dressed me up in full kimono attire one day and took me to see Kabuki. It was rather grueling — a 5 hour performance — and Akiko promptly fell asleep in her seat. I think that’s how the Japanese endure Kabuki.

    Will you be passing through Osaka or bypassing it?


  5. Kevin Koski April 30, 2008 / 12:35 am

    Deb, yes, the building down is amazing.?Whole malls sit underneath railway and subway stations.

    I tried to see a Kabuki performance but it was sold out. Maybe next time.

    I don’t think I will make it to Osaka. My spare hub is in Japan now apparently and I need to get to Hiroshima to pick it up and rebuild my wheel. Right now I am enjoying Kyoto and Nara.

  6. Kevin Koski April 30, 2008 / 12:39 am

    Dave, fascinating article about the fashion subculture in Japan. As we have seen, they take it seriously. Despite its wierdness, or perhaps because of it, ya gotta love Japan.

  7. Ira May 8, 2008 / 2:33 pm

    The first time we lived here I was withdrawing cash from a bank and accidentally withdrew Yen 200,000 instead of 20,000. So I found myself walking around at night with $2,000 in my pocket. Never hesitated – that’s how safe this place is. The fact that I could do so but have a $300 limit in the US speaks volumes for the difference in cultures.

  8. JoJo November 2, 2008 / 5:27 pm

    Hey Kev,
    FINALLY getting on your blog. Just started. It’s a weird weather day in the Copper Country…peeks of sun, weird moving clouds, hues of orange off in the distance, wind, finally giving way to rain…..we’ve had a beautiful Fall, thankfully. Anyway, going to continue reading on. Looking at your pictures even makes me regret more deeply than I already do that I didn’t go there…

    I never lock my door (except at night which really is futile as anyone could just unhinge my windows and creep in) but have begun locking my car doors as there have been a rash of car break-ins in Calumet. They’d only walk off with a few scratched up CDs, but I always think they can hot-wire the car and ride off with it. You can do that right?

    Be safe cuz, love ya.

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