Monday, January 05, 2009

Two Great Tastes that Taste Great Together

Though I still have guilt about failing to blog more Japan stories, I have an out. The new Top Gear episode that just aired Monday on BBC America features a race across Japan. Jeremy Clarkson drives a souped up Nissan while James May and Richard Hammond take trains from Hakui (Ishikawa Prefecture) to Nokogiri mountain (Chiba Prefecture), south east of Tokyo.

On the way, they have several standard tourist experiences.

  • Yes, it is rude to talk on a cell phone on the train! A very strange concept for us. You also don't eat or drink on commuter trains or the subway (long-distance trains like the Shinkansen are different), though we saw several women doing makeup and other similar grooming tasks.

  • The manhole covers are awesome.

  • The trains stop precisely so that the doors are lined up with the lines on the platform. That's why people queue there to get into the train, but you can sort of stumble in after them if you weren't lined up.

  • There's no point in working out how to ask a question in Japanese if you aren't going to understand the answer. Hammond and May find this out while trying to buy snacks from a pushcart on the train. (Incidentally, we are big fans of that Toppo that Hammond chose. It's like pretzel Pocky - tiny pretzel rods filled with chocolate - but a little softer and better.) Their electronic translator asks how much it costs and the snack cart woman tells them it's 250 yen - at which point they realize they have no clue what she said. They're still near Hakui at the time, which is fairly remote, but in areas that get a lot of tourists most merchants use pocket calculators to show prices. Also people tend to assume that caucasians don't speak Japanese, which is sometimes helpful.

  • Clarkson joyfully crunches all manner of dried or fried sea life as snacks while driving. He eats little dried whole fish (we had some, mainly as bar snacks or garnish) and these tiny crabs (we didn't see these but they looked good). Hammond, on the other hand, has some issues with the food. There's a great line when he and May are in a convenience store trying to find snacks for the train:
    Hammond: But it's all fish. I don't like fish.
    May: Then you've come to the wrong country.
Since we didn't drive on our trip, we didn't get to experience a Japanese service station, though they did look impressive. It's great to see one in action in the video.

Here's a link to the episode description. There are also two videos from the segment that you can watch online.

Share and enjoy.