dorchadas: (Warcraft Won't Stop Searching)
Listening to the latest episode of Vidjagame Apocalypse yesterday and they had a brief section about Night in the Woods, the adventure game about snake person angst, and included a cover of one of the songs from the protagonist's band:


I played it for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and gave a summary of the premise as I knew it, since I knew she'd understand. She's from Paducah, and as a child she had the goal to just get out in the way that I think a lot of kids from rural areas do. I'm from the Chicago suburbs, so it never affected me the same way, but I know people who lived in those dying towns before they moved away. The factories have closed, the malls are ghost towns, and people work retail because that's all that's available and mark off the days on the calendar. I mentioned that the protagonist and her friends hang out at the hardware store for lack of anywhere else to go, and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd nodded sagely.

I'm leaning towards buying the game based on how much I liked that song, honestly.

Farmer's Market Dinner )

For class, we were supposed to discuss an article but Aya-sensei forgot to email me, so we just chatted for an hour (and I did okay! Weeee smiling happy face). We're doing the article next week, though--an essay by Hirano Keiichirō entitled 無常ということ (mujou to iu koto, "On impermanence"), about the changes Kyōto has undergone, efforts against that, and what the "real Kyōto" is anyway.

One part stood out to me:
人が死ぬように、建造物も壊れる。人が移り変わるように、風景もまた絶え間なく変化する。そうした存在の絶望的な不安を慰める為にこそ、不変の聖所としての神社仏閣がかくも膨大な数築かれなければならなかったのではあるまいか
Which I would translate as
Much like humans die, buildings will crumble. Much like people change, the scenery will ceaselessly change. Surely to console that desperate existential dread, is that not why we must build temples and shrines in such huge numbers as eternal sacred spaces?
At what point does preservation become killing something and preserving it in amber? At what point does change destroy that which came before and make something completely new? I'm sure the people in the dying rural towns, both here and in Japan, would prefer there had been a bit less change, even if younger people are moving to those towns sometimes.

I haven't finished the essay, so I can't answer those questions. Question block
dorchadas: (Darker than Black)
I was going to write a story about the chocolate store that we went to in River North before it closed, while [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd was in grad school and we wanted the occasional treat that was delicious but still at mass-market prices. Occasionally I'd meet her there after an evening class or, when I got a job, after work. We'd get sundaes and eat them together, walk past the horse carriages that carry touristspeople on rides in River North, and then go back to our apartment.

But it turns out that I'm misremembering and that was a Ghirardelli. Oops.
Read more... )
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
Here's a backdated index for all the posts I wrote about [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and my trip to Japan with friends!
  • Friday, July 15 to Saturday, July 16 - Chicago to Tokyo - Mostly on airplanes.
  • Sunday, July 17 - Tokyo - Meiji Jingu, shopping, and Shinjuku park.
  • Monday, July 18 - Tokyo - National Museum, Clothes shopping, meeting a friend of [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd for dinner in Shinjuku, and the Final Fantasy cafe.
  • Tuesday, July 19 - Himeji and Hiroshima - Himeji Castle and a drinks truck in Hiroshima.
  • Wednesday, July 20 - Hiroshima - The Peace Memorial Museum, shopping, and a kagura performance.
  • Thursday, July 21 - Miyajima - Itukushima Shrine, climbing Mount Misen, and staying in a ryokan.
  • Friday, July 22 - Chiyoda! - Visiting and having dinner with our old students in the town we lived in!
  • Saturday, July 23 - Kyoto - Racist hotel, Pokemon center, and surprise festival performance.
  • Sunday, July 24 - Kyoto - Gion Matsuri parade, Fushimi-Inari, and parade at Yasaka-Jinja.
  • Monday, July 25 - Kyoto and Ōsaka - Sanjūsangendō, Shitennōji in Ōsaka, and the Tenjin Matsuri in Ōsaka.
  • Tuesday, July 26 - Kyoto - Hōnen-in in the rain, lunch in Gion, the Kanji Museum, and Torin yakitori restaurant.
  • Wednesday, July 27 - Tokyo - Otome Road, Akihabara, and gaming in an arcade.
  • Thursday, July 28 - Tokyo - Sailor Moon Cafe, the Ghibli exhibition in Roppongi, Super Potato, and dinner in Ginza.
  • Friday, July 29 - Tokyo and Toronto - Sakura manjū, one last ramen, and a flight home that worked out in the end.
What a wonderful trip!

Kyoto: Tuesday

2016-Jul-27, Wednesday 00:56
dorchadas: (Eight Million Gods)
Late night, late morning, and the rain that had been predicted nearly every day in the weather report finally arrived. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd went out with [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture to fetch breakfast, and then came back, ate, and we left just under the buzzer to allow the hotel staff to clean our room.

Everyone else wanted to go over to Arashiyama on the west side of Kyoto, their various original plans having been scuppered by the rain. They decided this when we were already on the bus toward Ginkakuji, though, so we stayed on and alighted in northeastern Kyoto in a light rain. We walked hand-in-hand for about five minutes through houses and small shops and, next to a children's park made of dirt with a single swing and slide, we found the entrance to Hōnen-in.


Shadows and light.

I read about Hōnen-in this morning, and while the website I read said the central building was only open for two weeks a year, in April and November, it also said that the grounds had a lovely moss covering and were little-visited. Both of those sounded like huge bonuses, so I asked [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd about it and she was all in favor. And it was exactly as advertised. I did have to wait for a couple other tourists to move out of the way to take that picture, but with the rain and Hōnen-in not really being famous for anything specific, we had it mostly to ourselves.

We couldn't go into the main hall, but it didn't matter. The advertised moss was there, as was a lovely fish pond, a few outbuildings, a stone stupa, and a statue tucked into a corner:


Watching over the moss.

After a few minutes' wandering around, we went back down toward the park and further north, where we realized we were on the 哲学の道 (Tetsugaku no Michi, "Philosopher's Walk"), which we've walked before the last time we were in Kyoto when my parents came to visit. After a brief diversion over to Anraku-ji only to find it was closed, we walked about five minutes north to the end of the road and Ginkakuji.

Ginkakuji is my favorite temple in Kyoto, but I think a lot of that has to do with my introduction to it. The first time we went, it was the end of December close to the new year, and almost no one was there other than us. The grounds were deserted other than one man raking the sand and us.

That was not the case here. The road from the Philosopher's Walk was absolutely packed full of people and the shrine was the same. It was still beautiful, but it fell victim to the typical problem with tourism--you want places to be easily accessible but no one to be there except you. Still, when I could ignore the people around, it was lovely.


One of many small ponds on the grounds.

The name means "Silver Pavilion" to match with Kinkakuji's "Golden Pavilion," but there's no actual silver on the buildings. The story is that they planned to cover it with silver but never got around to it, but no one really knows. I don't really care much for the buildings anyway. It's the gardens that I love.

I also got this picture of the grounds and the city.


Doesn't look that modern from this viewpoint.

On the way down, we popped into the gift shop. While we were tempted by the Kitty-chan tea mugs, we eventually decided not to get them, but did go for matcha and a sweet, the real reason we had entered in the first place. The sweets were soybean flour cakes formed in the shape of the mon of Ashikaga Yoshimasa, who ordered its construction. It was good--better than the matcha I can make, but not so much better than I feel like making matcha is a waste of time for me. I just need more practice, and I can do it.

After that, we took the bus back toward Kyoto Station but got off at Gion for lunch. Unfortunately, it was already 2:30 p.m. when we arrived and most places were closed or closing, and the places that weren't were serving noodles that I didn't want. We found one compromise place that had duck udon, but when we got inside, the duck udon was scratched out, so we left. We were running out of patience when [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd found a restaurant called Izumoya, where we got a seat upstairs overlooking the Kamogawa. ¥2000 set with dashimaki, miso soup, pickles, rice, sashimi, tofu, tempura, seaweed salad, salt mackerel...it was delicious. That link had some bad reviews, but I'm really happy we went.


The dashimaki wasn't as good as [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's, though.

Next was the kanji museum, which I had seen a few days ago and wanted to go to for a while. Right after entering we saw a video about the origin of kanji in China from ideographic representation to the more stylized images in use currently, which made the point that emoji are very similar to the origin of kanji. And just outside was a display that demonstrated it the progression of kanji from ancient to modern:


Touch interactive--press a modern kanji and it would transform into the older turtle-shell-carved form in the center.

After that was a display where you could write the syllables of your name and see what kanji were used to derive the hiragana and katakana to pronounce it. While doing the katakana, two women noticed our writing and we got into a brief chat with them about how we used to teach English in Hiroshima and were from Chicago, and it turned out that one of them was an exchange student in Detroit! She said she had a lot of fun, but it was extremely cold, which, well, can't argue with that.

We couldn't read a lot of the information there and the kanji library was definitely beyond our ability, so we took a quick look into the gift shop and then left to get some anmitsu and, after that, to look at kanzashi for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's hair. After a bit of browsing, she found a black and green one and then we took the bus back to Kyoto Station, browsed around the shops there, and then headed back to the room to rest a bit before dinner.

Due to a miscommunication, we ended up not meeting up for dinner, so four people went to Chojiro again and, due to long lines, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, another friend, and I took the bus to Gion and found a hole-in-the-walk yakitori place called Torin (鳥ん). No pictures of the inside because they requested no photos, but I did take this picture of the outside:


The inside decor was rubber-chicken-themed.

There was a ¥300 table,charge and one-drink minimum order, so initially I was set to hate the place. But they won me over with the food. I ordered the set meal and got a hamburg (ハンバーグ, more like Salisbury steak than hamburger) with egg, salad, chicken skin appetizer, ice cream, and three yakitori skewers. The yakitori was excellent. Crunchy on the outside, juicy on the inside, flavorful without being overwhelming, just fantastic. The table charge was actually worth it. And with only twelve seats in the place, I can kind of see why they charge it.

We left and met up with the others, bought some conbini sake and umeshu, and headed back to [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek's Air BnB to chat. That lasted about an hour before [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and said friend were falling asleep, so the rest of us said our goodbyes and conducted a Pokéwalk back to our respective places of rest.

I evolved an イーブイ into シャワーズ, and I learned that Showers is called "Vaporeon" in English.

Steps taken: 18226
dorchadas: (Eight Million Gods)
You can tell Japan is a high-trust society with good social cohesion because the elevators hang around forever but close instantly when you press the 閉める button.

I woke up late, so after showers and breakfast again at Lotteria, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and decided to go to Sanjūsangendō again. But apparently everyone else had the same idea, because when we got to the 206 bus there were roughly a hundred people waiting in line to use it. Faced with that, we figured walking would be better, so we set out east. Fortunately, the rain that's been forecast nearly every day of our visit but that never materialized finally arrived, so it was completely overcast during the walk and thus not that hot.

Sanjūsangendō does not allow pictures inside the hall and since it's still an actively-used temple--there are spots for praying and priests inside taking prayer requests--I didn't try to sneak a picture. But I did get this image of the exterior:


With artistic tree in foreground.

Sanjūsangendō is [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's favorite temple in Kyoto, because it's the temple of 観音 (Kannon), and because it feels like an actual temple. Even though it's also a tourist space, it's quiet, it's dimly lit, the whole hall smells of incense and sounds of dimly-ringing bells, and stacked in row on row in front of you as you enter are a thousand and one statues of Kannon, five hundred on each side of a giant seated Kannon almost four meters high.

We walked the circuit of the temple, in front of the statues and then the back hallway where they held the 通し矢 (tōshiya) archery competitions. There's even a wooden beam exhibited that has dozens of arrowshafts sticking out of it, the remnants of ancient contests.

After a brief foray onto the grounds to take some pictures of the garden:


I love this gardening style.

...we went back to the hotel room to get ready for the Tenjin Matsuri in Ōsaka. That took a bit longer than I was expecting because when we got back our room was still being cleaned, but eventually we were all ready. "We" being [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture, and myself, since everyone else had already gone ahead to Ōsaka to visit the castle. We walked to the train station, got on the next Shinkansen bound for Shin-Ōsaka station, and we were off. After a tasty チキン南蛮お弁当 (chikin nanban obentō, "Boxed chicken lunch of the southern barbarians") scarfed down in ten minutes because Kyoto and Ōsaka are really close together, we arrived in Ōsaka.

I've only been to Ōsaka once before because [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd had to take her GRE here, so I went with her for moral support. I remember the Human Rights Museum, that the conbini had kimchi-ume onigiri, and that's about it, so unlike the other cities we've been to I really had no idea where to go. Fortunately, as we were looking at a map, an English-speaking train station attendant came over and asked where we wanted to go, and we got on the train with a helpfully labeled map of our destination.

I then promptly ignored it, because we had a bit of time before the parade and I wanted to go to check out 四天王寺 (shitennōji, "Temple of the Four Heavenly Kings") first, after reading that it was one of the oldest temples in Japan (built 593) and the first known temple to be built officially by the state. So we walked there, against the flood of schoolgirls leaving school that had just let out, and arrived in mid-afternoon.

Here's the gate to the inner temple:


Fūjin and Raijin, guardians of wind and storm.

I did not actually go into the inner temple, because they charged admission and also because it was heavily under construction. I thought there was some kind of ceremony taking place with pounding drums until I looked into the inner compound and saw the heavy machinery.

There were a lot of smaller buildings scattered around the grounds, and I would have liked to spend more time looking around except we were on a schedule and also construction, so we left after a bit and walked to the subway, where we hopped on and came up near 大坂天満宮 (Ōsaka Tenmangu) into giant crowds of people in yukata, festival booths, a guy handing out fans, and, of course, the parade:


This is right after they put the mikoshi down and then picked it up again.

We watched the parade long enough for a couple mikoshi and one extremely-upset horse to pass by, and then the other group told us that they had found a place by the river to watch the later boat procession, so we left and worked our way through the crowd, across the parade route, over the bridge across the water, and over to the stone steps where the others were sitting. Then the boats came out on the water.


One of about thirty boats.

The boats were mostly dragged by tugboats, but a few of them, like the foreground of that picture, were muscle-powered, prompting feats of oarsmanship and [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat to say:
"I've never seen a boat do doughnuts before."
We watched the boats for about an hour and a half while the boat with the shamisen player, the boat with the bunraku performers, the boat with the dancers, and the various boats with oars doing doughnuts passed by. We were waiting for the fireworks to start, and they did start...further up the river and low enough that they were behind some buildings and we basically couldn't see anything at all other than some flashes on the clouds. After ten minutes of fruitlessly hoping they would move closer, we decided to give up and head home.

[livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat and [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega split off while the rest of us wandered around looking for takoyaki. We eventually found some, as well as kara-age, pineapple on a stick, and chocolate-covered pineapple on a stick, and fortified with those we took the subway to Ōsaka Station, the train to Shin-Ōsaka station, and the Shinkansen to Kyoto. Hurray for the JR Pass.

Once we got back, we headed back to the hotel so [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture could change out of their yukatas, and then there was only one thing left to do:


I don't know why they have Nightwish, but I won't complain that they do.

One hour turned into two, then into three, as is the way with karaoke. Finally, we ended with the traditional "Bohemian Rhapsody," all said our good nights, and went back to our separate places of rest.

Steps taken: 19430

Kyoto: Sunday

2016-Jul-25, Monday 00:33
dorchadas: (Eight Million Gods)
It's not just that our hotel is owned by a right-wing revisionist who thinks that comfort women were voluntary workers employed to help quell the desires of the barbarian Koreans, although he totally does and I read it in the propaganda in our hotel room desk. It's that the shower is terrible. And that's not just because its two settings are "off" and "sandblaster," although they are, or that the ceiling is too low, although it is. It's that there's piping or something in the shower area ceiling that drops half of it about 10 cm lower than the rest so what head space I have, I can't really use.

Somehow, I managed to shower and wash my hair and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went to the train station to find some breakfast, since among its many sins, our hotel also doesn't have breakfast of any kind. After a while wandering around trying to find a place that didn't have a bunch of ham or bacon, the hip modern breakfast foods of Japan, we settled on Lotteria Burger, a fast food joint I willingly admit I only really like because it's Japanese. I got the 絶品チーズバーガーワイド ("Perfect cheeseburger wide"), which didn't quite live up to its name but was worth the ¥600 I paid for it.

Then we took the subway, came up at Kyoto City Hall and, well...


The tree is what really got me.

When we came on the lion dance last night, I went online to figure out what was going on. It turns out that I had read the banners at the entrance of Yasaka-Jinja correctly. The entire month of July is the Gion Matsuri, and while a major portion of the festival is the parade that takes place on the 17th, dating back to 869, there's another parade on the 24th that's a few centuries old. This is that parade. It's ten floats that aren't used in the main parade and a few smaller groups walking by, and what floats they are.


Japanese Vikings.

Some floats--actually 神輿 (mikoshi, "portable shrines")--were wheeled, but several we saw were carried by dozens of men (everyone actually marching in the parade was a man), and when they reached the intersection, they would spin the float around a few times before continuing on in the new directions. If it was one of the gigantic floats like the ones I have pictured above, the people riding it would coordinate the movements of the people pulling the ropes to turn it without it tipping over, and all the while musicians played flutes and cymbals and drums. It was amazing.

After the last float passed us by, we went back down into the shipping arcade connected to the station to get a chocolate-covered croissant that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd had seen on the way in and some medicine for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's stomach. That accomplished, we walked south a bit to the private train line that led down to Fushimi-Inari Shrine, though not before taking a quick detour along the Kamogawa.


Ducks on Duck River.

You probably know about Fushimi-Inari even if you've never heard the name. If you've ever seen those pictures of rows and rows of shrine gates going up the mountain, spaced so closely that they're almost like walking into a tunnel, well, that's Fushimi-Inari.

We got there before [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek, who was planning on joining us, so we ducked into Kanoko Cafe across the tracks and bought an overpriced matcha float and waffle for the right to sit in the air conditioning while we waited. Unfortunately, [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek accidentally got on an express train and was carried off into parts unknown, so after an assurance from him not to wait, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd paid and started our walk down the streets leading to the shrine.

The street up was a bit like ninenzaka outside of Kiyomizu-dera crossed with a festival, with a lot of tiny shops selling traditional tourist kitsch plus festival foods. Then we passed through a giant orange torī and saw red lanterns everywhere, a stone staircase, and beyond that, the rows of torī leading up Mount Inari.


So cute!

At the bottom things were pretty bustling and crowded, but as we walked further and further up the mountain, the crowds thinned out a bit, and where they didn't thin out, they got quiet. People would occasionally stop and take pictures, or say something to their friends, but mostly it was just climbing a mountain to the sound of crows and cicadas, surrounded by the orange of the torī and an endless green beyond.

About a third of the way up, we came to a mountain lake:


Serene.

There was a map here of the entire mountain, showing all the gates, the smaller shrines, and how much we had left to go, which was quite a lot. If we had more time, and if [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd hadn't been feeling kind of sick, we might have tried to hike all the way to the stop of the mountain. But she is feeling sick, and anyway, we already hiked one mountain this trip. There's no need to do another one.

We also saw a guy wearing a t-shirt that said:
"My soul has been corrected. I have what I need."
...which I would love to get for myself if I knew where he found it. But more directly relevant, there were a ton of tiny shrines scattered about the mountain:


Shrines all around

On the way down we bought a small kitsunemikuji, a good-luck fox, and some amazake from a shop that was almost certainly also someone's home--小森由夫, the nameplate said, "Komori Yoshio"--right on the edge of where Kyoto ends and the mountain begins. They served it cold for ¥50 more, which we gladly paid, and then when they brought it out, it came with a tiny spoon and crushed ginger to mix in before drinking. After climbing up a third of a mountain, it was exactly what we needed.


I haven't had this in years. Delicious.

You can buy amazake starter kits for the rice online, and now that I'm reminded how good it is, we're absolutely going to try that.

At the base of the mountain we met [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek, who had gone halfway to Ōsaka and come all the way back, but had an injured knee and didn't want to climb too much of Mount Inari. We hopped on the JR train coming back from Nara, taking advantage again of our JR passes, and went back to Kyoto Station for lunch, where [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture, who had stayed behind to do laundry, met us for lunch at Katsukura, which I didn't realize was so amazing when we went there, but which was definitely worth the ¥2980 I paid for the beef filet katsu set meal.

Lunch done, we tried to walk over to Sanjūsangendō, but because we had gotten started so late after a late lunch, by the time we got there, it was 4:45 p.m. and the gates had been closed to visitors for 45 minutes, so we split off--three of us heading back to the train station and one heading back to his Air BnB. After a stop at 7/11 to get cash, and another stop at a currency exchange, we went back to the hotel so [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd could rest a bit before her birthday dinner and I could hand-wash some laundry.

Around 7 p.m., we met up at Kyoto Station to take the bus to Gion and Maharajah, and after a brief adventure where we accidentally took the bus going the wrong way and had to switch to the other bus, we did make it and not too late. We ate delicious Indian food, talked about music, the economic plight of snake peoplesnake people, movies, and politics, and came up after dinner to find the final part of the Gion Matsuri parade--returning the mikoshi to Yasaka-Jinja.


Lots of chanting not evident in this photograph.

We stayed and watched it long enough for it to pass by--[livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega even got a hachimaki from one of the marchers--then we went to go find a karaoke place that was open. Right as we did, the one friend who hadn't been able to make it to dinner said she was available and asked what we were doing, so we left the place we were about to check in and headed back toward the station. One person peeled off there because he was staying closer to Yasaka-Jinja, and that caused a bit of a chain reaction, coupled with [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's stomach hurting. Eventually we decided to try again tomorrow, after the Tenjin Matsuri, and headed off for our respective beds.

Steps taken: 20296

Kyoto: Saturday

2016-Jul-23, Saturday 23:51
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
Finally we had a day where we didn't really have a plan or a schedule that required we be somewhere on time, so we lounged around in the morning, had a leisurely breakfast at the Toyoko Inn--better than Sakura Hotel, not as good as Hotel Active--and then left right at checkout time to head to the train station. Due to the heat and various injuries sustained while walking, we went east along Heiwa-Ōdōri to the nearest streetcar stop and took the streetcar to the station, then jumped on the next Shinkansen heading for Kyoto, which left in ten minutes.

The train was pretty low-key, because between Hiroshima it's mostly tunnels with no internet connection and everyone was trying to get Pokemon Go to work during the trip. We did have to change trains in Himeji, after which we had assigned seats, but it arrived right after our old train did and we arrived in Kyoto around 1 p.m.


And suddenly, shrine. Like you do.

We split at the station, since [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat and [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega were staying in an Air BnB and didn't have a check-in time until 3 p.m. We didn't either, but we were staying in a hotel, so we walked around Kyoto Station and found the wrong hotel in the same chain--there's two of them about two blocks from each other--and then dropped off our luggage and went back to the train station, since almost every major train station in Japan is a giant retail and eating hub as well as a place where trains run. If everyone is going to be there already, might as well take advantage of it, right?

After lunch at a noodle place called めん、いるんな ("Noodles, various kinds") in the Porta Dining center, we wandered around a bit try into find more water for [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture, who was feeling very dehydrated, but by the time we actually found a place selling some that didn't have too long of a line, it was time to check in and she figured that she'd get water in the hotel. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I bought some yatsuhashi, a local delicacy, as gagaku played from the speakers in the train station, and we all went back to the hotel, picked up our bags, and checked in. Though not before stopping to take a picture of this guy:


Cute mascots are mandatory.

In the hotel, one person discovered that the desk was filled with right-wing propaganda, and apparently the leader of the APA Group is a uyoku dantai. If I had known that, I would never have booked a room here, but we've already paid, so...

After we'd had a bit to settle in and the one person who had taken a detour to Okayama had time to arrive, we went back to Kyoto Station and took the express bus to Shijo-Kawaramachi and the Takashimaya department store, wherein was the pilgrimage central of nerddom, especially lately:


Gotta catch them all.

This was [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega's idea, but I'm really glad we went with it. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I wandered around and found a pikachu dressed as a maiko and another pikachu in summer festival clothes, so we bought a pair of them to display in our apartment since you can literally only get them in Kyoto, and then got a fan, a frisbee kind of thing, extra bags, and several fliers for buying the pair of pikachus and spending over ¥5000 total on them. We thought about buying a few other things, including a pair of pikachu tea cups, but decided against it since we'd just end up displaying them and we already had two plushies to do that with.

After we had all gotten our fill of Pokemon, we went up to the restaurant floor of Takashimaya to look for restaurants, but everything up there was a bit expensive and not super appetizing, so I looked to Google and found a kaitenzushi restaurant called Chojiri, which someone else in line waiting with us mentioned was a good choice since it's apparently considered amazing. And it was really good--I loaded down with a ton of salmon and the seasonal specialty, fried founder. Once we had all stuffed ourselves for about ¥2100 a person, we left and headed east toward Gion across the Kamogawa.


A good place for a sunset stroll. Just ask [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd.

Where Kawaramachi is full of glitz and glow, Gion is much more down-to-earth. Fewer designer goods, more traditional clothing and cobblestone streets lit by paper lanterns. We did a bit of walking, passing Maharajah, where we've eaten every time we've been in Kyoto so far and plan to do so again, and then [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega decided to head back to her Air BnB to prevent her ankle from getting too strained. [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat joined her, but the rest of us kept going into Yasaka-Jinja at the end of the street. Following the sound of the flute, we came on a performance:


Lion dance!

All those signs advertising the Gion Matsuri that I had seen but not really registered actually meant something. We came in about halfway through and watched the rest of it until the finale, after which the performers took off their costumes to stop sweating so much, the crowd dispersed, and the action ended. We looked a bit around the park, and seeing nothing else there, decided to go home, though not until after a quick look down a scenic cobblestone alleyway, made somewhat less scenic by the constant taxis driving down the road to pick people up from restaurants.

One of us was staying near Gion and split off, but one other person, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, and I took the subway back, including one transfer and a bit of confusion. But we made it back to the hotel, and after long showers, it was time for bed.

Also, we spent a ton of time playing Pokemon Go. We caught a カモネギ, which is apparently only available in Asia. Lucky!

Steps taken: 14603
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
As the subject says. My parents and sister came over to visit, and we ended up traveling all over the place. Tokyo, Kamakura, Nara, Kyoto, Himeji, Matsue, Izumo, Hiroshima, Miyajima...it was a ton of traveling. I probably walked over 100 kilometers, even with the times that we took public transit, and that doesn't count the extra effort expended from carrying my bags all over the place. On the other hand, we got to go to a ton of places I've wanted to visit since we came to Japan but didn't really have the time. Most of them were the same places I've already written about multiple times--Kinkakuji, Meiji Jingu, Himeji Castle, etc., so I won't repeat them here. But, I'll talk about the one that I think my favorite--出雲大社 (Izumo Taisha) in the eponymous Izumo. It's a shrine to the god of marriage, and fittingly, we saw no fewer than five couples in various stages of their wedding while we were there.

Funny story--apparently it's bad luck for a couple to go through the main gate to Izumo. Of course, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I didn't know about this until after we had already gone through it. :p Then again, there was a rope that people were trying to toss coins into (as in, getting them to stick between the fibers of the rope. It was about a meter wide) and I managed to make my coin stick on the first toss, so hopefully that will counterbalance it.

The shrine also had a museum on the grounds that had swords forged by Muramasa and Masamune, which were in amazing condition for being 500+ years old, and a lacquer box made in 1150 that looked like it had been made yesterday. Not bad for a small museum curated by one guy.

Parents' visit

2009-Aug-05, Wednesday 21:18
dorchadas: (Warcraft Burning Moonkin)
So, last week I missed basically everything that happened on the internets because my parents were in town. If you don't remember my Kyōto entry, then I suggest you reference it again because we went all the same places. :-p The only difference was that this time, it was hot and humid instead of cold, and we walked everywhere.

After Kyōto, we made a brief stop in Himeji to see Himeji-jō, which was tragically cut short when my mother twisted her ankle and fainted (probably from a combination of shock, the heat and dehydration. One roll for breakfast and ice cream for lunch does not constitute a balanced diet no matter how healthy your dinner is, Mom!). I ended up running up 6 or 7 flights of stairs to get a guard and explain the situation, and as a minor benefit I will never forget the word for "to faint, collapse" now. She was okay--it was only twisted, not sprained or broken--but we cut our visit short and headed home to get some rest [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I are probably going to take a day trip and go back in September when we have a 5-day weekend. It's only 1.5 hours or so by shinkansen from Hiroshima, so that's easily doable in a day (if expensive).

The day after that we rested to give my mother's ankle time to heal, and on Friday we went to Hirata-san's (our Japanese-tutor) house for lunch. Before lunch, her husband, who is a Buddhist priest, showed us around the temple and demonstrated a sutra for us, which was really neat. He has a good chanting voice--it sounded a bit like throat-singing, if you've ever heard that. The meal was quite good, there was much exchanging of omiyage, and then we went off to Miyajima, where we spent the night in a ryokan. Not a small one--those are all super expensive, and would have been booked anyway--but it was still neat. The food was delicious, and it was modernized enough to have air conditioning, which made sleeping on a futon not so bad.

The next day we looked around Miyajima (note that despite the wikipedia article title, all the signs to get there say "Miyajima," even in Japanese). We didn't actually go to the shrine, partially because people had shrine fatigue after Kyōto , but we did climb Mt. Misen. My father and I did it the hard way, and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and my mother took the ropeway up. I didn't feel especially holy afterwards, though. 95% humidity meant I felt more just hot and sticky. After riding down the mountain the easy way, we looked around town for a bit (and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I had a delicious lunch of anago, the local specialty), we went back to Chiyoda.

Then on Sunday, they looked around Hiroshima, and on Monday they headed home. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I were going to stay in the city afterwards, but we were incredibly tired so we just went home.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the bombing, and I think I'm going to the ceremony. There's going to be statements by hibakusha with accompanying English translation, which will be really neat to hear. The actual remembrance is too early for me (and the candles on the river are probably too late), but I can go for the statements at least.
dorchadas: (Enter the Samurai)
All right. Now that I'm no longer sick, I can actually write about our Kyōto trip!

We were going to leave last Friday after [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd got back from work, but when we arrived in Hiroshima bus center she noticed that her purse was missing. It turned out that she had left it back in Chiyoda, where one of the station attendants had picked it up, checked the identification, noticed it was all in English and called the school. We went back to get it, and by that point, it was too late to take the train to we waited for the next day. This later turned out to have been very good, since our original plan would have gotten us into Kyōto hours after check-in time at the youth hostel closed.

On Saturday, we woke up early, took the bus into Hiroshima and then went to the train station. Once there, we learned what all the fuss about shinkansen was about. Unlike an airport, there was no waiting in security lines, no sitting around, no weather delays, no tin-can feel, nothing. We went up to the counter, asked for tickets to Kyōto, and the agent asked us if we wanted the train that left in 10 minutes or in 20. Around 2 hours later, we were in Kyōto, right around the time to check into the youth hostel. The guy behind the counter was kind enough to not charge us full price for the first day because [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd had called in and told them why we were late. We didn't do much the first day...just met up with [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's friends and went out to find a place to eat, mostly. The hostel was in Gion, but most of Gion is really touristy now, so finding a restaurant open late wasn't too hard. It's a bit of a disconnect to hear Indian waiters welcoming you in Japanese...but we are in Japan, after all.

Pretty much all of our sight-seeing time was taken up by going to temples. The first day, we went to Kōdai-ji, which was probably my favorite place, and Kiyomizu-dera. Kōdai-ji was still obviously a working temple--while we were there, the call to prayer bell was rung and we could hear chanting coming from somewhere. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd also got a good-luck charm there blessed by a monk (which we later learned was specifically for good luck in travels). Kiyomizu-dera is one of the places that people usually go to when going to Kyōto, but it was still neat. One of the big draws of Kiyomizu-dera is the sacred spring there. It's the original reason the temple was founded, and it's supposed to grant good health to people to drink from it, though considering [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I both got sick after we got back from Kyōto it clearly didn't work for us. :-p The temple also has two rocks around 10m apart--if you can walk between them with your eyes closed, you will find your true love. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd did it and got excited congratulations from some Singaporean tourists, though they were less excited when they learned she was already married. :-p We saw a maiko (an apprentice geisha) on the way back, and although she had a very worried expression when we asked to take her picture, she did stop and let us, which was nice of her.

We were going to go to the zoo after this, but it was closed for New Years, so we walked down a bit farther down the street and went to Murin-an, the old villa of a Diet member from the turn of the century. The garden was really pretty, but our guidebook mentioned that they would serve you tea for an additional fee, and we couldn't find any sign that told us where it was. After that, we split up with Rachel's friends--they were tired, so they went back to the hostel and we went on to Nanzen-ji. The party we really wanted to go to (Nanzen-in) was closed for New Year's, but we were able to see the aqueduct. It was all red-brick and neat looking. We went up top and followed it for a while, but it just led to a water treatment plant. The rest of the day was mostly window-shopping in the overpriced touristy areas of Gion and looking for food.

The second day, we went to Kinkaku-ji and Ginkaku-ji (respectively, the Gold Pavilion and the Silver Pavilion). We only went to Ginkaku-ji because we were confused, but I actually liked it better than Kinkaku-ji. Kinkaku-ji (so named because the top two floors are covered with beaten gold) was incredibly touristy. There was one path lined with ropes that people took, it was crowded, there were no monks anywhere, etc. Ginkaku-ji had no gold (or silver--they were going to put silver foil on it but never actually got around to it), but it did have a neat display of all the mosses you could find growing on the temple grounds. Dinner was at a place called Senmonten, which only makes gyoza and pickles, but they were by far the best gyoza and pickles I have ever had in my life.

The next day we basically just woke up and went home, but we also learned the bad side of shinkansen travel. On the way there, we had gotten reserved seats, which were a bit more expensive but meant we had a number, assigned seat, etc. On the way back, we got unreserved seats. What this meant is that the car was packed (standing room only, the aisle was full so we stood in the entryway) and that the conductor pushed people in with a pole to back us all in before the train left. That was quite a bit more uncomfortable, but at least now we know to request reserved seats in the future!

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