Or as Pilot in Shogun calls it "The Japans." A few more belated photos:
I was continually surprised by a new discoveries of Japanese attention to detail. From little baskets next to your table in restaurants to place your bag, scarf, etc., to a small cork to rest your fork on instead of directly on the table, to a hot cloth at the beginning of each meal, to a small sticky pad of paper about one inch square that came with the gum I bought so you'd have a way to wrap it before tossing it. It was also in the details of their architecture: most things were very minimal, but thoroughly considered and intricately designed.
View of Kumamoto from the Castle.
A wonderful mark of what makes a great urban space is that you can have the perks of city life and reasonable density, but yet have green space and tranquility. I loved that in Kumamoto I could easily get anywhere I needed to go on my bike, there were endless winding streets with restaurants and stores in the center, yet I could pass through a fantastic park with green space on the way to the city center. I could be on our street in the city and it would still be completely silent at times. The value of a tranquil atmosphere was very apparent in the Japanese culture. However, it is also a culture of oxymorons—while you can have a perfectly peaceful walk on a city street, you're usually only blocks away from Pachenko sites—huge casino-type buildings that are basically my inferno on earth. Blaring music, flashing lights of row after row of machines combined with industrial overhead lighting so bright you need sunglasses, smoking indoors, etc. It was almost a game to go in and just see how long you could stand there without having a panic attack. Our street was in what would look like a not-so-safe area next to a train track, were it in Europe or America. Pedro pointed it out, and I quickly caught on to how safe it was though—there were always women walking down our street at night alone, nobody locks their bikes up (you just slide a built-on lock through your back wheel), Pedro's Japanese co-workers instructed him to just leave the keys in the company-rented car, unlocked, so the next person to need them would have them. I went into a grocery store one day and parked my bike with all of the others. Next to me, someone had left their computer bag in their bike basket while they went in.
Quintessential Japanese house we found on a hike.
Temple we found on the same hike. They all have that unique sloping/curved roof. Very interesting.
Hair salons were everywhere in the city center and obviously a popular industry so I decided to partake in that cultural element one day. And bottom line, just needed a haircut. Many of the the salons, stores and restaurants cross-promote each other by a small table of little postcards/business cards from other businesses near their door or register. Being a designer I usually filled up with a handful of them before leaving a shop because many had really interesting designs. I picked up one that was a cool illustration of a guy in his salon. So when I decided to get a hair cut I emailed him in English to make an appointment, apologizing that I couldn't speak Japanese. He emailed me back apologizing for his minimal English, but assuring me he had used Google translator. It was the most meticulous haircut I've ever had and for that definitely turned out great. Above was his email afterwards. DAYS that he mentions is a cool bar Pedro adored that has an entire wall of CD's that you can request. They know where everything is and can immediately locate whatever you request.
Small point of interest: Japan has an entire range of toilet experiences. Many of the public ones are the Turkish-style, floor-squatters. A little difficult sometimes for an American. However, the ones in our apartments were like learning to navigate a space ship: it was in Japanese so I couldn't read all of the options, but out of the like ten buttons (in the below photo half of them are still covered up), I gathered that you can change the toilet seat temperature, the direction the water squirts out, the temperature of the water, etc. Though a little unsure about it at first, I quickly began to wish these would catch on in America.