Kofu City, Yamanashi, Japan

Kofu City is the capital of Yamanashi prefecture.

Statue of Takeda Shingen in front of on Kofu Station South Exit

daibutsu statue at the Zenkoji Temple in Kofu

Scroll of Jizo bosatsu
Scroll of Jizo bosatsu at the Zenkoji Temple in Kofu

Bookmobile stopped near Takada Shingen temple

Bicycles make passage difficult near Kofu station "No bicycle parking" zone

Parking that is close to the train station is limited and expensive so driving to the station is not practical and as a result many people take the bus, walk, or ride bicycles to the station. Teenagers talking on their cell phones while riding, little old ladies on their way to the supermarket, and businessmen in suits riding their bicycles to the station, riding with one hand holding an umbrella in the other hand when raining are all common sights. I have even seen the occasional young girl riding her bicycle to a festival dressed in a kimono or yukatta. Because there are so many, bicycles are often left anywhere there is a space. People often leave there bicycles at the station for days. I have seen, at Nirasaki station, bikes literally piled one on top of the other forming a massive heap. The no bicycle parking laws are rarely enforced on a regular basis. A few times a year the city will announce that it will clear out bicycles on a certain day if not removed.

Bicycles line the sidewalk making passage difficult in front of Kofu station despite the "No bicycle parking signs". The typical bicycle is a 3-speed with a basket on the front. You can pick one up for as cheap as about 85 U.S. dollars. Many bicycles have a wheel lock which prevents the back wheel from spinning discouraging the "joy-rider". And although Japan is well known for it's low crime rate and a sense of personal safety is one of the great benefits living here in Japan, a bicycle seat and three bicycle lights later I can confirm that petty crime does exist. I have heard stories of drunk salary men in a hurry to get to where ever just taking any bike they find and throwing into the bushes after arriving to their destination. But still a great number of bikes remain unlocked.

Bicycling in Japan so far has been an interesting experience. Narrow roads with no bike lane is the norm here in Yamanashi. To add obstacles, many roads have drainage ditches about a foot deep along the sides of the roads which remain uncovered. Bicyclist seem to rarely follow the rules of the road, crossing where ever convenient, riding at night with no lights or reflectors, riding on the wrong side of the road, and the list goes on. However, the drivers seem to be accustom to this and I tend to feel safer riding my bicycle here than in Arizona.

takoyaki (grilled octopus) booth at the 2002 Tanabata festival in downtown Kofu

Ventforet, Kofu's pro soccer team playing agaist Kanagawa

Ventforet, Kofu's pro soccer team playing agaist a Kanagawa team at Kose Sports park in Kofu at the beginning of the 2002 season. Japan entered the world of soccer with its first pro team entering the World Cup several years back in the mid 90s. However, it wasn't until Japan co-hosted the World Cup with Korea that soccer gained a lot of popularity especially among the young including highschool girls. Although the real parties were in Tokyo's Roppongi, Yokohama, and other cities where the games were played, World Cup fever reached Kofu too and it seemed like all of Kofu's young crammed into a few of the local bars showing the games. Even cafes jumped on the bandwagon and installed satellite service and new TV to draw new customers during the World Cup.

The 5th annual, NBA (Nippon Bartenders Association) Yamanashi competition

The 5th annual, NBA (Nippon Bartenders Association) Yamanashi competition held in Kofu in June, 2002. This year Alfie had 3 of the 8 contestants and took 2nd and 3rd place. All 3 bartenders competed in the next level competition held in Yokohama November 2002. Japanese bartenders have a certain technique they use and it is no doubt the Japanese perfected the process of making a cocktail. Like many other aspects of the culture, the actual process and presentation is an important part the service. The competition rates bartenders on not only the looks and taste of a cocktail, but also whether a piece of ice was dropped, whether all cocktails were the filled to the exact same level, whether any of the mixed cocktail was wasted. To prove this last requirement, the bartender shakes the shaker over an empty glass to demonstrate that all of the concoction was used. But a very important requirement is the shaking technique, and I have seen contestants get nit-picked on their shaking techniques during the critique stage. But then again some contestants were nit-picked because their hair was too long.

Students practicing kendo, bamboo sword combat, in Maizuru park.

Students practicing judo in Maizuru park.

Yamanashi festival at Kose sports park in Kofu in 2001

Kose sports park is often the host of various local festivals. The yatai mura or rows of booths seen in this photo are an important part of many festivals include games, food, beer and other drinks, and souvenirs.

The "mother" of all vending machines, dispensing 22 lb. bags of rice, 24 hours a day.

Japan is a vending machine society, with vending machines selling everything from food to porno. The majority of vending machines sell food and drinks such as candy, gum, snacks, fast food like hot french fries and hot beef curry, ice cream, and instant cup noodle complete with a hot water dispenser on the side so you can prepare your meal right there at the vending machine! Drinks come in all shapes and sizes. Hot and cold drinks come in cups, bottles, boxes and cans of which the can of hot coffee seems to be a popular favorite. Drinks come in all sizes from small 6oz. cans of beer to 2 liter bottles of tea or soda. Of' course there are vending machines that carry the other necessities of life such as cigarettes, beer, hot and cold sake (Japanese rice wine). To keep the kids in line many of the cigarette and alcohol vending machines automatically stop sales at night.

Vending Row

Some of the more interesting vending machines I have seen include machines dispensing disposable cameras, batteries, and tissue paper vending machines in front of public toilets that don't have toilet paper. There are huge machines dispensing bouquets of flowers, huge bags of rice, bags and boxes of grapes, apples, oranges, among other fruits, and even rental bowling shoes. At highway rest stops and many restaurants there are vending machines that dispense meal tickets. Insert the money, press the button for the items you want, and hand the meal tickets to the person behind the counter. The ticket number or order will be called when ready. I have heard that 3 entrepreneurs distributed vending machines in the 90's that sold pre-worn school girl's panties. You can bet these vending machines were for the frugal school girl either!

Toilet control panel
High-Tech toilet control panel

Another one of Japan's high-tech conveniences. This high-tech toilet does it all. Features include spray wash, bidet, water temperature control, heated seat temperature control, large and small flushes, and the creme de la creme, a seat cover that automatically lifts when you enter the room! Check out the video below.

Click to watch the video
Click to watch the video