Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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October 3, 2012

When in Japan, see dugongs, eat dugong cookies

(Continued)

I didn't attend an organized beetle-wrestling tournament, but I did visit a tiny, perfectly clean shop that sells them as pets. One particularly large specimen — if you didn't run away screaming first — would set you back 3,980 yen, about $50.

DOG HOTELS

You may think dog-owning culture is over the top in the US, but we have nothing like Wan Wan Paradise, a chain of hotels with a branch in Toba. ("Wan Wan" is the equivalent of "bow wow" and a kind of baby talk word for "doggie.")

Wan Wan Paradise is especially for people vacationing with their dogs, with a swimming pool for dogs, dog park, roof garden, and organized activities. The staff includes dog trainers and professional pet photographers. You can even bring your dog to the hotel restaurant.

A lobby bulletin board displayed photos of satisfied canine customers, and at the gift shop I bought a souvenir for my own pugs: rice crackers flavored with gourmet beef that's a regional specialty.

Back in Tokyo at the Skytree shopping center, I ran across a cafe where you can dine with your canine, boasting a special dog menu including tiny waffles. If all this leaves travelers longing for their own pets, they can partially soothe the ache with a visit to one of Tokyo's cat cafes, where resident pettable felines wander freely among the customers. The trend now encompasses rabbit cafes and even one with reptiles in nearby Yokohama.

GIANT PANDAS

As a resident of the Washington D.C. area, I thought I knew something about panda obsession. That was before I stayed for two weeks near Ueno Zoo — http://www.tokyo-zoo.net/english/ueno/ — which is Panda Central for Tokyo.

Local entrepreneurs compete to celebrate the adored beast. Sweet bean-paste buns are already round, so it's simple to decorate them to look like panda faces. But why stop there? An art museum in Ueno Park had an exhibit of Egyptian art, so one bakery featured a bun where the panda wears an Egyptian headdress.

The quirky Japanese sense of humor is in evidence at a stand just outside the zoo with its own specialty panda candy. Even if you don't read Japanese you can figure out what the unappealing-looking brown nuggets represent by looking at the illustration on the package: The cuddly black-and-white cutie is enthusiastically picking his nose. Now there are some folks who really love everything about the panda.

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