Chas Jones, Ph.D.


Great Italian food in Japan?

Great Italian food in Japan?

Wow!  I had some amazing Italian food last night!  Some of the best that I have ever had and I really am looking forward to going back and trying some more…  I know that you won’t believe me, but you might want to trust me on this one.  The name of the restaurant?  Cheese, cheese.  Yes, that was the name!  So let me repeat myself, the name of an amazing Italian restaurant in Sapporo, Japan is “Cheese, cheese”.  Where is it?  Well, its in the Susukino District on the bottom floor of the Norbesa Building, which is similar to most in Susukino, except that it has a giant ferris wheel on top of it!  Seriously, you can’t miss the ferris wheel and therefore, Cheese, Cheese is very easy to find.

Now, I speak and read absolutely no Japanese so there is always a language barrier when I go to a restaurant, but the experience turned out pretty good. I sat at the bar that surrounds the kitchen which was great.  I noticed that every patron was being served something as a precursor to their meal.  I wasn’t quite sure what it was until mine was sat before me.  It was a fried egg in a cup. I was directed by the chef to immediately stir up the egg and eat it rather than let it cool.  So I did. It was nothing spectacular, but interesting.  Otherwise,  I had only pizza while I was there.  I had their Margherita variety, which I tend to really enjoy.  The menu was only in Japanese and it had some photos, but mostly, I just said “Pizza”.  I also said “Tomato, basil, cheese” (with my best Japanese pronunciation) and the waitress said “Ah, Margherita!”  And I said “Yes!”.  The pizza was a thin crust version that was about 12″ in diameter.  They only have one size, I think.

While I was there, I watched the chef make a pasta that appeared to be alfredo, but it looked absolutely amazing.  I watched as he tossed the noodles in the center of a giant hollowed-out wheel of parmesan cheese.  Whoah!  He tossed and tossed and tossed the hot noodles in the cheese wheel.  I can only imagine how the noodles became coated in a layer of parmesan which he then dropped into a creamy serving dish.  It looked delicious.  Next time, I will try that!  And I will be back, and I doubt that it will be too awfully long before I am there!
I also watched the chef as he brought out a new leg of prosciutto, which he placed into a clamping device.  He sat it in front of a customer that had ordered some sort of appetizer and he proceeded to carve very thin slices of prosciutto for them.  He appeared to be telling them a story in Japanese as he slowly sliced and served them slices of the meat.  I was really curious to hear what he had to say, but I couldn’t understand a word of it.  It seemed like he might be telling them about the history of prosciutto and the secret life meanings that can be found by taking it in slowly on an autumn Saturday night.  It was moderately priced, as I had 1/2 of a pizza and a drink for about $18.  I could handle that, but it wouldn’t be enough had I been a little bit hungrier.

Also inside of the building with the ferris wheel, was a looked to be a fun bowling alley.  Complete with many cartoonish characters and lovely servers.  I think I found a fun evening for our little group of international students.  Dinner and drinks at Cheese, cheese; followed by a round of bowling; and finished with a 20 minute ride on the big ferris wheel (1000 Yen/ person).


Update:  I went back to Cheese, Cheese to try this amazing pasta alfredo dish that I had seen from across the distance while I was there the first time.  I went alone and I only ordered the Pasta Cheese, Cheese (which is what they referred to this dish at a cost of 1800 yen). Natsuki’s (my waitress) masterpiece shall be my dinner! First, piping hot noodles are repeatedly tossed in a hollowed wheel of Parmesan cheese. Then, place noodles back onto hot plate and pour near boiling heavy cream over the piping hot noodles. Top with grated Romano… Let your mouth water as you ponder the flavor. If it were me, I would add some steamed broccoli and maybe a touch of basil, oregano, and thyme. Delicious.

And below you can see my artistic creation that evolved out of the rabbit and name that Natsuki wrote onto my paper table covering upside down as I she sat me.  Fun, fun at cheese, cheese!…

Evolutionary theory 101: Toilets

Evolutionary theory 101: Toilets

In the time of our ancestors, it seemed mind-blowing when somebody started digging a hole before doing his/her business to realize several benefits: 1) Sanitation.  It was cleaner and you were less likely to get sick if you crapped into a hole in the ground and covered it up. 2) Odor control. With a little earthen cover, the eau de feces is much more pleasant. 3) Compost.  The whole mess even seems to go away if you just give it a few months under ground, so you can dig in that same spot once again and do your thing.

Then we decided to upgrade as we dug bigger holes over which we would place platforms unto which our buttocks would sit.  Technological advancement, but we lost some of the benefits of the simple hole covered in dirt.  Lets face it, this is an outhouse.  Many, if not most of my friends in Alaska, actually still use outhouses today because they live in cabins without running water.  1) Outhouses can be clean, but many don’t feel that way.  At least almost all of the stuff, ends up in the hole!  2) Odor control.  Yeah, you wish.  3) Composting?  Well kind of…  Maybe eventually when you bury that big festering pile of stuff, but I bet that you’ll never be brave enough to dig there again! 4) Water conservation!  Well that’s the reason that outhouses exist these days right?  They are typically found in areas that lack running water.

Sure there were various renditions on the outhouse, such as the “head” on historical sailing vessels that traversed the seas of the planet.  Historically, the head for the common sailor was found at the front or rear of the ship, where holes were strategically placed over  the water into which a man (or woman) could do her business.  Now, that was clean.  There was no odor.  It was all recycled by the sea and it required no water!  Not to mention that the impact in the open sea was either beneficial or nominal due to the vast volume and extent of the world’s seas.  What is it that is said about the world’s pollution problem?  The solution to pollution is dilution.

** This is contrast to the current situation where to worlds’ oceans have become a dumping ground for ships and nations world wide.  Our seas are drowning in plastic, toxic waste, and garbage.  Our food and livelihood comes from these waters people!  Once you devastate them, they are not going to be restored very easily!

Then came chamber pots and servants to dispose of them.  It was probably dumped into a nearby river, sea, or hole that would be filled until it was at capacity.

Then came water consuming toilets which eventually would evolve into the toilets that are commonplace in United States households. And then there are variations on those to conserve water (which is great), with low flow toilets, dual volume flushes (depending upon what type of business you have done). Please note that I do not want to suggest that these are the height of the recent evolution of toilets, because there are obviously several evolutionary tracks that toilets have taken.  In places around the world, they use holes in the floor that still utilize water to move the waste from the bathroom into the public sewer system or into a septic system (Italy, India, Japan, and China are places that I have encountered such systems).

Well, the Japanese have decided to push the envelope in terms of toilet innovation.  *Cue the bugles!* Enter the Washlet (by Toto). Its more than just a toilet seat, folks!  It is a Bum Pampering Appliance Extraordinaire!  Not only does it chop, mash, dice, and cube your favorite veggies (okay, not really), but its various forms will have many, if not most, of the following options:

  1. Bidet function for the rear (with pre-warmed water and adjustable pressure)
  2. Bidet function just for women (also with pre-warmed water and adjustable pressure)
  3. Heated toilet seat
  4. Massage function
  5. Automatic deoderizer (aka exhaust fan, with various speeds to maximize its deoderizing effectiveness)
  6. Music! (Yes, music which may include the option for the natural sound of running water, to cover up the sounds of any thing that you may wish to hide)
  7. Drying function (using heated air to dry anything that has gotten wet using the bidet)
  8. Anti-bacterial seat

Yes folks, we are talking EVOLUTION!  I introduce unto you, the Washlet by Toto!…

Linking cultures.

Linking Cultures

As mentioned previously, a number of the non-American students are pretty shy or quiet.  Andres is from Mexico and is gregarious and speaks English at least as well as each of the Americans.  I suspect that some of the Asian students are self-conscious of their proficiency in English. I am not positive, but that is my suspicion.  Well yesterday, all of us went to lunch together after I asked if everybody was interested in doing so.  Today, not everybody joined us, but the Asian students asked me if I was going to join them in the school cafeteria.  I was pleasantly surprised and was happy to join them. Andres was already there when we arrived so we all ate together. I was happy with that.

The guys in the program are in an all-men dorm (called the International House at Kita 8 East, a 15 minute walk from CENSUS).  The women are in a co-ed dorm (guys occupy one floor) that is found 45 minutes away from the CENSUS building.  So after class, we have all been going our separate ways in the afternoon.  Today, at lunch, Isma, one of the Indonesian students was mentioning how they all have been going back to the dorm after lunch and sitting in their rooms until the next morning.  This means that they have basically been in class until about noon and then back in their dorm by 2 PM each day.

I was shocked, so today I invited all of the students to go on a walk with me after lunch.  A bunch of the international students decided to join me (much to my surprise).  They are all pretty cold every time the step outside in Hokkaido. It’s probably been 45-50 degrees F, which is a lot colder than their homes.  So when they said yes, I thought that I’d just take them to see the mall in Sapporo Station so that they could see something interesting in a warm place.  So we spent a couple of hours checking out all of the silly stuff in the mall.  After we had our fill of mall stuff, I asked if they were tired yet and they said no, so I decided to take them down to the Susukino district.  They seemed to really enjoy the experience.  They hadn’t seen anything like that in Sapporo yet, and they were definitely intrigued.  YoungRi (South Korea) really enjoyed the electronics, the flashy clothes and the silly, bright colored stuffed characters.  Wenwen (China) really liked all of the shoes and just watching all of the people and goings-on.  Isma (Indonesia) was pretty much happy and laughing at everything and everyone of us.  Meanwhile, Anni (Indonesia) liked everything and kept disappearing around the end of every aisle.

We finished their exploratory adventure at a coffee shop where we got teas and sweets to warm up before the walk back to our dorms.  YoungRi gave me a brief lesson in Korean and Japanese language and I did the same for her English.  In our group, she has a harder time than the rest communicating in spoken English.  She says that she studied English for 6 years in school, but they do not speak the language in their studies.  They only study the written language.  Interesting.  She also says that there is a huge desire to have native English speakers come to South Korea to teach English.  No skills in the Korean language is necessary.  Want to earn $500/day teaching English?  I am giving you the job lead that you need!

2011.10.23. The long trip.

Up until now, life was pretty hectic.  I hurriedly prepared and installed field gear to initiate this winter’s research project.  I bought some new clothes and gear for my trip (my new Mountain Hardware rain jacket is the red one that I am wearing throughout this trip.)  I also wanted to hang out with my friends which I wouldn’t see for the next couple of months due to our combined travel schedules and up and coming holiday breaks.

I arrived at the airport in Fairbanks, Alaska at midnight and flew 3.5 hours to Seattle and 1.5 hours to Los Angeles.  Now I needed to get to Riverside, so that I could  hang out with an old friend of mine, Sarah, for 24 hours before flying to Japan the next morning. I jumped on the FlyAway shuttle bus ($7) between LAX and Union Station (a transfer point for all public transit in the LA area).  Purchased a round trip train ticket ($23.50) on the MetroLink to get me there.
En route, my fellow passengers taught me new phrases as they audibly imposed upon my personal envelope.  “Jail-raised” was the most notable.  As in, “That m_th*rf_ck*r wasn’t jail-raised so he don’t know sh!t.”  Apparently, this guy had been jail-raised and implied that he held qualifications that far exceeded his subject’s because of his time spent behind bars.  I was particularly impressed by this group of 5 passengers, each of whom was equally impressed with each other because of their particular experiences behind bars and the homies that they had met while there.  It was funny that one of them was trying to fit in and was sure to claim that while she had not been in jail yet, she was soon going to go to court for some minor infraction in which she had received a ticket. She thought that this might just be her opportunity to finally end up in the county jail.  The ages of these kids?  17, 19, 20, 24, & 18.

Sarah picked me up at the train station and gave us an opportunity to catch up a bit.  Nine years had passed since we last saw each other.  It had probably been 5 years since we last talked, but then there was Facebook.  Of course, through the “magic” of this website, we have reconnected in some minor, but not really so minor way.  Its an interesting phenomenon because I’m not sure that I would be sitting with her and her husband at dinner, if we had not been Facebook friends.  I highly doubt it actually.  It hadn’t dawned on me that Riverside was somewhat near LAX when I had posted that I’d have 26 hours in the LAX area and was dreading the experience.  Sarah invited me to stay with them in their home so that we could catch up and share a few laughs. Laugh, share memories, and catch-up we did.  We went on a great little hike up to the “C” and had a great homemade pasta dinner and some beautiful and delicious little appetizers and a wonderfully simple, yet indulgent, chocolate-laden dessert.  I am so happy that we were able to make that happen.  It had been way too long and I hope that it won’t be nearly so long before I see them again!
The next morning, I caught the train back to Union Station, but caught the subway ($3) to the airport.  Red line to the Blue line to the Green line.  Free shuttle bus to the airport and I was there.  1.5 hours for the train and 1.25 hours for the subway/shuttle.

12 hours after Los Angeles and I touched down in Tokyo.  Pick-up my checked luggage. Go through customs. Check in for my domestic flight.  Go through security.  They find an old generic leatherman (with knife) in my carry-on!  I haven’t seen this thing in many, many months!  How long had it been in there?  This is the bag that I always have with me as my carry-on.  It had gone through security without question from Alaska to LAX and again from LAX to Japan!  I suspect that it had traveled on a number of flights before this trip as well.  Interesting.  Throw it out please.  They comply.

Sapporo.  Oct. 22, 2011. 9:30 PM.  Subway to Sapporo Station. Taxi to Hokkaido University’s International House (male dormitory).  Check in. Sign papers.  Listen to the many rules. Agree. Sign my life away. Go to sleep.  It has been a very long trip from Alaska and I am going to sleep very, very hard.…