Whisky Highballs in Kyoto

At least I look a lot younger than Bill Murray

I have a bit time before my talk today so I thought I would write a short blog. So far my visit has been really enjoyable and my host Shoji Itakura has been incredibly kind. My post-doc, Thalia and I were treated on our first night to a feast at an “izakaya” restaurant. Shoji and his graduate student Yazu were drinking whisky highballs, and convinced me that they did not give you any hangover. I decided to give them a try and of course, woke up the next day with a major hangover. Whiskey and me have never been the best of friends. There again, it is difficult to know if my spaced out feeling was due to whiskey, or the notorious jet lag that plays havoc with one’s sense of reality.

That distortion of reality was captured so accurately in “Lost in Translation,” Sofia Coppola’s brilliant portrayal about a middle aged actor past his best, doing a photo shoot to sell “Suntory” whisky in Tokyo. The movie title refers to both the cultural barriers but also the main character Bill Murray’s attempts to adjust to own mid-life crisis. Hence the movie’s tag line – “Everybody wants to be found.”

Japan is different to Western culture in so many ways. The language of course is very difficult, especially for someone like me who linguistically challenged. But it is more than just the language. Someone told me that Japan is like a cultural onion, with many layers of complexity, that Westerners do not appreciate.

The other thing I find very amusing about Japan are all the warning signs. The last time I was here with some dear friends, we giggled at how warning signs literally pictured dangers. For example, one of the funniest warned about smoking in the street because you could poke a small child in the eye with a lit cigarette. It had a small child clutching an eye that had just been jabbed with a cigarette. If anyone has that one, could they please post it here.

Ok not exactly as I remembered it but still funny. Thanks

"Heh kid, let me stub this one out on you" Thanks Sabio

However, being Lost in Translation can be a very isolating experience when you do not make the connection with everyone around you. I am not saying that I feel moribund, but one does wonder about the loneliness of travelers. So I was somewhat alarmed when I looked in the drawer of my miniature hotel room to discover a plastic bag with visual instructions. Of course, this bag is presumably for dry-cleaning but the images on the front suggest an all together different way of checking out.

UPDATE: See Kita’s comment below – it turns out that you ARE supposed to put the bag over your head as as a means of dealing with fumes from a fire!

What not to do with a plastic bag if you are depressed


Filed under General Thoughts

12 responses to “Whisky Highballs in Kyoto

  1. KSturgess

    I loved going to Kyoto and seeing the deer. They have signs there with a small child patting a deer, as the mother deer appears to be struck by lightning. 0.0 The implication is ‘pat baby deer and risk having mummy deer get awfully mad.’

  2. Aw… that poor racoon. Er… squirrel… er… what is that animal, and WHY is someone attempting to suffocate it?

  3. Arno

    It’s a tanuki: a raccoon dog. They are considered to be bringers of good luck, wealth and hospitality, which is why statues of tanuki were often placed outside restaurants, inns and shops.
    The reason for it being a symbol of wealth btw, is due to their absolutely huge scrotum. Their balls are ridiculously big for the size of the animal, and it was therefore seen as a bringer of fertility (original statues had the animal sit on his own balls as a seat, but Victorian prudeness removed that part of the tradition).
    The animal was also known as something of a magical trickster, not unlike the kitsune (fox) or the cat, who could change shapes.

    • I love teh intertubes! Thanks Arno.

      But why are they suffocating the poor thing… is it not bad enough to indicate that you might die if you put a plastic bag over your head? Do they need to convey the threat of loss of luck, wealth and hospitality too? Man, those plastic bags are fierce!

  4. John Schultz

    Peel a layer off an onion, and your eyes burn like hell no matter where you are. Do not put water (or ice) in whiskey–that’s what causes the hangover. And, take a deep breath before you put the bag over your head. Read the rest of the instructions if you have time.

  5. Sotaro Kita

    Hi Bruce,
    Hope that you are having a good time in Japan. BTW, the pictures on the plastic bag with a raccoon illustrate WHAT YOU SHOULD DO in case of fire. It is not illustrating what not to do. A classic lost-in-translation situation….

    My greetings to Thalia.


    • Anonymous

      Heh Kita, How are you? I never realized you followed my blog. I could have done with you in Japan to help out but in any event, I had a great time. Hoping to establish something more long-term with regards to research collaborations.
      How’s that gesture paper or did it die of old age?

  6. Jacob Vohs

    And now I feel (sort of) bad about pouring that whiskey in your glass at the TAM Wild West party. You did decline a refill as I recall which apparently was a good decision!

  7. Bruce:
    歩きタバコ is the expression in Japanese, so I searched and found the items below. Try copying those in Google and search through the images for your favorite! Hope that helps.


    Or this one (funny): http://illcomm.exblog.jp/11108097/

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