Sunday, October 22, 2017

Your dinner's in the dog

There was a time when the idea of walking into a restaurant and being confronted by a slobbering dog would have seen me spin on a dime and head in the opposite direction. And then, of course, we acquired two wonderful furry friends and my approach to life changed overnight. But that still leaves the question of lunch. Now, I'm used to the idea of sunshine, a glass of wine and a balcony with a dog. Which is wonderful in summer but as the skies close in (and allow me to avoid saying "winter is coming"), the question arises as to where exactly to go.

And these days there's a plethora of options largely driven by the rising popularity of small, home specific bundles of fun. And we're not talking about a water bowl on a deck; we're talking full on, high-end restaurants that provide for your four-legged friend to join the fun at the table. And granted this may be a little unsettling for those without pets, it's a boon when you're looking for somewhere to celebrate a special occasion and you'd like to be able to take your dogs with you. Or just going for lunch. And it doesn't really end there.

If you don't have your own favorite pet, why not meet one pre-packaged? Owl cafes are something of a rage at the moment; you can literally sip your coffee under a beady eye. Or you can pat a bunny at a rabbit restaurant or stroke a feline in a cat cafe. There is even one location that specializes in hedgehogs, though I'm not totally sure what you can do with these spikes little balls of, well, spikes. Or you could just go to Starbucks, have a coffee and surf the internet looking at pictures of puppies instead. Let's face it, there are worse things to do with life. But I love my dogs and, having finished this post, I'm going to take them for lunch.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A magical Wash 'n' Dry

Although now something of an anachronism given Japan's penchant for demolishing and rebuilding their residence on a seemingly weekly basis, it is only in recent times that having your own bath became the norm rather than something of a luxury reserved for the rather more well-healed. And so, in days gone by, the daily wash-down would occur in the local communal bath-house, known as a sento. Unlike the more familiar onsen hot springs of rural Japan, where the weary traveller goes to relax in the therapeutic waters bubbling from the volcanic lands, the humble sento is predominantly functional. It's the place one goes to get clean.

And never having been to one, I decided it was time to tick this particular experience off the list. Japan is very relaxed about bathing together with friends and family often enjoying a gossip through the soapsuds and water, though post-war spas have typically been segregated as the western influence has encroached into life on the ground. And so on arrival into the back streets of Nakano in western Tokyo, nestled in an old, quiet residential neighborhood, we took off our shoes and my wife went through one curtain and I the other. And then things got weird. Inside the sento the walls were decorated with pictures of Fuji and a high tiled wall separated the men from the ladies and the first thing you notice is the incredible noise. 

It's amazing how loud a group of friends can be in a bath. And then there was the man covered with tattoos (something of a taboo in an onsen) and after I washed down politely I jumped into a one of the pools. Only to be electrocuted (I should have read the sign first). Washing down once more I headed back to the changing room where I relaxed for a few minutes au-natural (as you do). Looking up there was a kind old lady looking down, smiling through the open window of her house across the street. And then the attendant turned out to be a world class magician and began a series of incredible card tricks of which I am clueless as to how he achieved them. So, after all these years here, I proved to myself that the old adage is true; you learn something new every day. Have a nice bath.

Not me. If you were wondering....