Monday, May 23, 2011

Photo time~

I was left not quite destitute after my awesome Golden Week, so I haven't been doing anything of much interest lately. Today and last Monday were spent mostly in my apartment - cleaning, organizing photos, studying Japanese, NOT spending money, etc. I am eagerly awaiting payday this week OMG.

I downloaded the pics off my cell phone and was surprised at how amazing they look! For a cheap Samsung (like one of the cheapest Softbank was offering when I signed up), the quality is pretty good. Here are some photos from Kinkaku-ji and Nijo Castle:


The photo doesn't do this place justice.

Yesterday I went to a rose festival at a park near my house. I woke up around 930am and the sun was shining, but by noon some very suspicious-looking clouds had gathered in the sky. I KNEW it was going to rain but I went anyway. I managed to get a few photos before it started to pour:

There's a hula halau up the street from my apartment.
I wondered if one of these hula groups practices there.

I thought this was the most perfect-looking rose~

Meehh other than that not much to report. I have follow-up training in a few weeks and I am cautiously looking forward to it. I know I'll get to meet some of the other teachers in my company in the area, but we'll all be with the staff from headquarters and that kind of scares me. We've had some big shots visit my workplace recently and it's never any fun to walk on eggshells all day.

Also - I finally got around to changing my Blog Charm after fiddling with the codes. I love my new bento box with octopus sausage guys~

Thursday, May 19, 2011

GW Part 5

Is this over yet gosh.

SO DINNER. YUM-YUM YUMMY. Kevin somehow got it in his head he really wanted some AMERICAN food and we were going to walk all over the place to find a TGI Friday's or Hard Rock or Planet Hollywood. I avoid these places like the plague in America, because any burger or steak or rack of ribs you can find at those places is almost always done better at another restaurant. Seriously. Half the reason anyone goes to a Planet Hollywood or Hard Rock Cafe is for the shirt, which will one day end up at a Salvation Army for $4. In Japan, as I have already chronicled, THESE PLACES ARE A GODSEND. I just wish we had a Buffalo Wild Wings gaaahh that would be so good...

Anyway, after walking around for at least half an hour Tracy looked up those places on her iPhone and Kyoto has NONE of those chains. Sad pandas. So we settled for okonomiyaki in a small restaurant underneath the station. Meh. I can't say we ate anything really awesome the entire trip, other than the meat on a stick at Nara.

TANGENT BACKSTORY TIME: I remember during my study abroad days that Ashlie was a big fan of mints and gum. One day she bought a pack of Glamatic*, not understanding a damn word on the packaging but being nonetheless intrigued by the sparkles and glitter. She popped a piece in her mouth and told me it tasted like PERFUME. I didn't believe her until I chomped on a piece of my own and promptly spit it out.

I told Tracy and Kevin this story and Kevin was like, "THAT WAS SO MY IDEA FOR A GUM." I bought a pack for him in Nara and shoved it in my bag for later, when we all wanted that awesome rubbing alcohol flavor in our mouths. After dinner I was digging around in my bag looking for the gum, and we stopped outside the station to truly experience Glamatic. It wasn't as bad as I remembered it, but there was still a hint of perfume.

I believe at that time I dropped my wallet.

I didn't realize it until I wanted to buy beer at a Lawson (heh). We went back to the station to look for it, but it wasn't lying around anywhere so we were forced to go to the koban (police booth). I knew I'd have to stumble my way through a conversation in Japanese and it was a very FML moment in general. It reminded me of another wonderful experience with Ashlie, when she forgot her book folder at the fare adjustment machines at Shibuya station. We'd gone shopping at 109 and ran back to the station to get it, only to remember that neither of us really spoke or understood much Japanese. It was awful and I felt like a big pain in the ass to the station employees, who were mostly a bunch of old guys who obviously didn't want to help us. We got her bag back but not without lowered self-esteem. (Read about it here!)

Tracy and I walk into the koban, and there were two cops - an older guy and a younger guy, maybe in his late 20s/early 30s. Obviously the younger guy has to deal with the super mendokusai gaijin, so I start explaining the situation in my terrible Japanese. "I dropped my wallet about 20 minutes ago... outside the mall thing by the escalator... Sorry my Japanese sucks..." This time wasn't as bad as Shibuya, though! I actually understood some of his questions and was able to answer in Japanese. Tracy and her iPhone apps helped A LOT.

At some point during all of this, two j-boys walk into the koban. While we were walking around looking for an American restaurant I had noticed one very strapping young fellow on the street who was cute and well-dressed, and here was the same guy with his not-so-hot buddy talking to the older cop about his lost wallet. Neither Tracy nor Kevin remembered seeing them while we were walking around, but Tracy did agree that he was quite kakko ii. I refrained from nampa in the koban, as it probably would not have been in good taste.

Younger cop called the police station across the street and told me they probably have my wallet. Probably? Yes, probably. Because I didn't just give him my name, address, and an extensive list of what was in my wallet, and based on that list he couldn't possibly give me a definite answer as to whether or not that wallet was mine. I thanked him for being so patient and kind and we walked to the other station to claim my things. Three old guys and one younger guy were obviously waiting for the gaijin to show up, and again the younger guy got stuck helping us. He made me go through everything, count my money, and fill out a form.

Nothing was missing! Yay! So we went back to the hotel and drank.

This is already super long but TOO BAD WE'RE FINISHING THIS GW STUFF.

The next day was our last day in Kansai. We had to be out of the hotel by 11am, so we were forced to get up a bit earlier than the day before. We dropped our stuff off at the station and caught the bus to Kinkaku-ji, the big golden shrine in a pond! It's a fairly long bus ride, at least 40 minutes one way, and the shrine grounds are really small. My camera decided that it no longer had the will to function, so I don't have any photos after Kinkaku-ji for the moment.

Admission ticket is a sweet paper thing with all kinds of kanji on it!

Desktop background worthy.

After Big Gold Shrine, we caught the bus to Nijo Castle. I was annoyed that you can't actually see anything cool, all you can do is walk around the grounds and be in nature and stuff. It was nice and seemed like a great chill-out spot, but meh. I took some photos of the sakura (or some similar flowering tree) on my cell phone and have yet to upload those to my computer.

Around 4pm we decided we had time to hit up one more place, or at least have an early dinner, so we caught the bus back toward Kyoto station. We didn't anticipate some idiot ramming his car into another car and causing an accident that backed up traffic for forever. What should've taken us maybe 30 minutes turned into at least an hour, and we were scrambling to get back to the station before our train left. We ate at Lotteria, and Kevin and Tracy raced around the station buying omiyage while I bought a new shinkansen ticket to go back to my home station.

We made it onto the train with barely any time to spare. Now I can say that I've traveled outside of Tokyo for fun stuff (and not training)! Yay!


*I didn't read the article, there's just a good photo of Glamatic.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

GW 2011 Part 4


After Gion, the three of us went back to our hotel and decided we'd sleep in the next morning. We have to wake up early all the time for our jobs, and this was vacation damnit! We were gonna sleep in and assume we would wake up at a decent hour!

We woke up at 11:30. Oops.

I love drink bars.

After a leisurely lunch at everyone's favorite family diner Gusto, we made it to Nara by about 2pm. We grabbed some visitor information pamphlets and made our way towards... cultural stuff. All the good tourist spots are in one general direction away from the station, so if you walk far enough you'll find a World Heritage site or something like that.

We happened to run into a few deer, some pagodas, and eventually a really really really big Buddha statue.

Why do the deer only go after grandmas and little girls???

On the way to the Daibutsu was a road lined with matsuri-type food stalls, where you will find some of the best food ever. This one had pretty standard stuff - yaki-whatever (soba, tori, meat), various sweets, soft cream, okonomiyaki, etc. I grabbed barbeque chicken on a stick, corn, and matcha + vanilla soft cream.

Kevin opted for beer.

And then we got to Hotoke-sama! I have said this before but HE REALLY DOES PUT THE DAI IN DAIBUTSU. According to Wikipedia, which is always correct and completely factual, the current building that houses the Daibutsu is 30% smaller than the old one. I honestly have no idea how they built a structure almost one-third larger than the one that is already there, it is immense.

Every Japanese person I've spoken to about my visit to the Daibutsu has asked me about the hole pictured above. There is probably some great legend that goes with it, but basically if you can crawl through this random hole in a pillar you'll have good fortune. Or live a long life. Or marry one of the boys in JE (if you crawl through it 100 times you'll marry Jun Matsumoto). I don't know. If you'll notice here's a line at least 50 people long in the background, which was not appealing in the least, and the parents of the kids in this photo were taking pictures of each of their children in the pillar, making everyone else in line pretty upset.

[TANGENT: I'm generally not a fan of these kind of tourist gimmicks. This one in particular reminded me of (though is not nearly as bad as) The Blarney Stone in Ireland, where you have to walk up through these ruins of a castle, get in line behind dozens of other tourists, allow your body to hang over the edge of the top of the castle, and perform an epic sit-up in order to kiss the very nondescript "stone" that probably has the germs of millions of other people's spit on it.]

Around 6pm we decided we'd had our fill of Nara for the day and headed back to Kyoto. We got lucky by catching a rapid train to Nara, about a 45 minute journey, but weren't so lucky going back. I think it took us about an hour and 15 minutes (possibly longer) to get back to Kyoto, though it wasn't so bad since we all slept through it.

Look forward to okonomiyaki dinner, losing my wallet, a big gold temple in the water, and fewer pictures next post~

Saturday, May 14, 2011

GW 2011 Part 3

The Kansai trip I shall be retelling here and in the next post almost didn't happen. Kevin, my dear friend Tracy's coworker, is about to return to America and he'd been after us the past few weeks about going to Kyoto and Nara. He never made the trip out there during his stay in Japan and he REALLY REALLY REALLY wanted to go before going back home. I told him I'd be game for the trip and I'd gladly pay my share, but no way in hell am I going to plan it. Students and parents alike were telling us we'd probably waited too long to get hotel rooms or Shinkansen tickets, but Tracy and Kevin managed to find both and arrange everything maybe two days before we left. While I was enjoying a hot dog at Kasai Rinkai Koen, they were scrambling for train tickets.

I left my apartment Monday morning at about 6:45am, to catch the train to the station we were meeting at to get on the Shinkansen. I didn't realize Odawara was two hours away (eek) but I really didn't want to be on the bullet train by myself so I had agreed to meet them at that station. I'd also totally forgotten that I'VE BEEN TO ODAWARA BEFORE, but I remembered when I saw the castle outside the station. 

The Shinkansen ride was about two hours from Odawara to Kyoto. Not too bad considering the price of a ticket and the amount of time it took. I slept most of the way there. When I did get up to use the restroom, I was taken aback by the fact that the train had one of these:

At least they provide toilet paper.


We got to Kyoto around noon but we couldn't check into our hotel until 3pm, so we went off to Fushimi-Inari Shrine - a.k.a. that shrine with all the orange torii lined up that gets used in movies and commercials a lot. It's about a 15 minute bus ride + 10 minute walk from Kyoto Station.

Start of the torii.

One thing you almost never see is the back of the torii, where they all have kanji carved into the wood. As I was walking through the gates, I noticed some of them were brand new and a few didn't even have the characters painted black yet. I naively assumed that the kanji were blessings or sutras or something and the torii have to get replaced every so often, since they're made of wood they probably get eaten by bugs or damaged.

Kanji kanji kanji...

WRONG. Shrines like these are where businessmen pray for good fortune, so anyone can buy a gate and have their business or name written on the back for good luck. If I have a good chunk of money laying around maybe I'll think about getting my own Fujiyoshi torii.

Rates for different sized torii. Get yours today!

We checked into our hotel at about 4pm, after wandering around the streets of Kyoto for about half an hour trying to find the place. I'm glad Kevin and Tracy were able to get us a proper room so we didn't have to stay in the dorm-style lodging downstairs.

We made a fairly pitiful trip to the famous Gion district that night, as well. We were all pretty beat and we didn't know where to go for anything fun, and wandering around only led us to sketchy areas and host clubs. I knew the Gion was a red-light district in the past, but I didn't realize that it's still fairly true to its roots today. But at least the shrine was pretty at night!

Ugh I STILL HAVE SO MUCH MORE TO WRITE ABOUT. Next time: Nara, losing my wallet, and my camera deciding it hates the world!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

GW 2011 Part 2

I have no idea how many parts this GW series will be, but given the amount of photos for this one it will be quite a few!

On Sunday of Golden Week I went to Mt. Takao, the highest point in the greater Tokyo area! It is a mountain and in nature and all of that, but hiking Mt. Takao is like saying you're hiking Diamond Head - you're not really *hiking* most of it because it's paved. The official website notes that much of the park is wheelchair accessible, and I did see one or two people in wheelchairs enjoying the scenery. There are trails that require a bit of athleticism and proper footwear, but I walked around in bright pink tights and knee-high leather boots with no problem. I figured I couldn't possibly be more inappropriately dressed than the ladies who go up Diamond Head in their Sunday best.

Before entering the park, we ate at a little noodle shop at the foot of the mountain. I ate a big bowl of vegetable soba, which I swear tasted EXACTLY like Zippy's saimin. The texture of the noodles, the broth, EVERYTHING. I WAS SHOCKED. I also really wanted some Sriracha sauce.

Needed a slice of Spam.

I did not go to the summit that day, as it was a bit rainy, but I got to see the temple and the monkey park. Both are located about half-way up the mountain, and you can get there by walking, cable car, or chair lift. My friend suggested we take the chair lift up, walk around and see stuff, and take the cable car back down. Seemed reasonable. Until I actually got on the chair lift:

No buckles, no seat belts, and just barely some netting and wood planks between you and the ground 100 feet below. If you dropped your camera or phone or iPod, LOL. And it wasn't just a few minutes to get to the top, it was at least 15 minutes at very steep angles. 

But the view from the top is well worth the harrowing trip up the mountain!

I think I live somewhere in this direction?

You can see ALL of Tokyo from one of the scenic points, even Tokyo Sky Tree on a clear day. It's absolutely gorgeous! 

A quick walk from this scenic point led us to the monkey park!!!!!! I WAS SO EXCITED FOR MONKEYS YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW.

Not sure if you can see him, but #1 Boss Monkey should be in this photo. He's got patches of fur missing from all over his back from breaking up fights and putting bad monkeys in their place. According to the keeper, he attained Boss Monkey status after a baby monkey got trapped inside the electric fence around a tree and he was the only one brave enough to save him. 

I didn't get any photos of the temple, but it's like every other temple I've ever visited in Japan. We didn't get there in time to observe the monks performing daily chants, but it was still very nice.

On the way back down, I got some photos of the octopus tree. Its roots look like a big octopus, and they even put a nice marble octopus next to the tree in case you couldn't figure it out on your own. We took the cable car back down the mountain, which was also kind of scary but not fall-to-your-inevitable-death scary.

Look it's all slanty so it can go up and down the mountain!

We finished up at Mt. Takao in the early afternoon, so there was plenty of time to go see the Trick Art Museum down the road. I have no idea who thought it'd be a good idea to randomly put such a museum next to a mountain. Some of the more successful shots:

What a day! I couldn't tire myself out too much though, because I had to pack for Kyoto and Nara. Look forward to that post soon :)