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, [ 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 [ 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.

[ profile] tastee_wheat and [ 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 [ 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 [ 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, [ 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:


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 [ 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 [ 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--[ 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 [ profile] tastee_wheat and [ 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 [ 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 [ 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 [ profile] tropicanaomega decided to head back to her Air BnB to prevent her ankle from getting too strained. [ 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

Chiyoda!: Friday

2016-Jul-22, Friday 23:29
dorchadas: (Chiyoda)
One benefit of staying in a ryokan is that you get both dinner and breakfast, so after sleeping in almost until the last minute, I was awakened by [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd with exactly enough time to make it to breakfast after a quick shower. And such a breakfast:

Get in my mouth.

We had to eat a bit quickly in order to make the ferry, and originally I thought we were going to miss the shuttle from the ryokan to the port and would have to walk. What was I thinking? This is Glorious Nippon, after all. They held the bus for us, loaded our luggage into it while we paid for the room, and then drove us down in time to catch the 8:25 ferry and the street car that was just leaving after that.

We didn't try to make the 9:40 bus after arriving at 9:35, so we popped into a 7-11 to withdraw cash and get snacks--I got a melon pan, om nom nom--and then up to the bus center, where we bought tickets and asked for the proper platform to board the bus. I thought it was eight, but I was misremembering. It was nine, like it's always been.

Also, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd accidentally bought us children's tickets instead of adult tickets and we were worried for a moment, but we were being silly. This is Japan, and the ticket counter exchanged them for free. They were actually the same price, so I'm not sure why the 北部 line even offers separate tickets.

On the bus, we learned that Pokemon Go had finally gone live in Japan, causing a frantic burst of activity as [ profile] tropicanaomega captured every unclaimed gym in sight.

And then, we arrived in Chiyoda.

From the highway. That building with wings is the community center.

Kaminaka-san, Hattori-san, and Sunada-san were all waiting to meet us at the bus center, and after a round of hugs (hugs! In Japan!) we started on our short tour. First we went to the Geihoku Cultural Center, new since we lived here, that had exhibits about local folk crafts like weaving and rice growing, about kagura performance, and about the festival of Mibu no Hanadaue. Then we went to Mibu itself, walking down the shōtengai where the festival takes place and ending at Mibu Jinja, where we went for hatsumōde our last year in Japan.

Not as impressive now, without the snow and lanterns and crowds of people. I wish I had a picture of that night...

After that, we drove up to a viewpoint on top of a hill, and after a short walking path, we found our way to 壬生城跡 (Mibu shiroato, "the ruins of Mibu Castle"). I didn't see anything that looked remotely like a castle had ever been there, but there was a spectacular view:

Facing toward Ōsaka.

After that, we went to look at our old house, still pretty nice looking and still sitting next to the abandoned twin house next to it, and and then off to Chiyoda High School! Unfortunately, due to the Japanese policy of transferring teachers after only a few years, very few of the people that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd taught with were still there. There were a couple, though. Umeki-sensei, who teaches math, and Nishihara-sensei, who teaches science, and the school nurse were all there. We also ran into Koyama-san, mother of Kazu, who I wrote about in this post and who is now a high school student. We didn't talk for very long because Kaminaka-san had set us a schedule, but we looked around for a bit in the school and then continued on to the Yae-sogo Communtiy Center for lunch, where we were met by Nakamura-san, the other Hattori-san, and Bōno-san.

Lunch was amazing. They had remembered I liked sake a lot and brought two small bottles for me, one of local sake from Chiyoda and one from Saijō, where the sake festival is held every year in late August. We had conbini bentō and okonomiyaki, as well as dessert jello from somewhere. I got a grape and aloe jelly that tasted exactly like the drinks I used to get from vending machines. We chatted, and I did a lot of translating to and from Japanese, and there were only a couple times where I just brought the conversation to a halt because I couldn't think of how to express an idea. It was amazing. Why did we leave?

Oh yes. So [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd could go to school and fulfill her dreams. It's a good reason! And yet, when I'm here, walking around Chiyoda, speaking in Japanese in a way that I was very uncomfortable doing when I lived here the first time...

If I had moved here before knowing as much Japanese as I know now, I'd be conversationally fluent. But, well, there's nothing to do about that now. I just have to keep trying and keep studying.

また今度, I said as we left. "Until next time..."

And we will be back, someday. Sooner than five years.

After a three-hour meal, we had to catch the bus back to Hiroshima, so we took the taxi Kaminaka-San had chartered and packed away the hand-made pottery pieces he had made for each member of our group, including [ profile] aaron.hosek, who wasn't there due to having not been in Hiroshima with us, and we got on the highway bus and started the trip back. After the trip, we walked to our hotel--not Hotel Active, sadly, because there was a weekend price spike that made it not worth staying in--but in Toyoko Inn on Heiwa-Ōdōri, which was further but not significantly so. We were scheduled to meet some old friends from our Japan days, who happened to all be here at the same time in a weird serendipity, and after we checked in that's what we set out to do, though [ profile] tropicanaomega and [ profile] tastee_wheat stayed behind because they were still incredibly full from lunch.

The tabe・nomihōdai was at Sōgo, not Mitsukoshi like we originally expected it would be, so it took a bit longer to get there than we thought it would. Not too long, though, and once we made our way through Sōgo to the special beer garden elevator and went up, we had a couple hours of drinks and food with friends. The food wasn't that great, but I got some nice use out of the bottle of sake that it didn't seem like anyone else was drinking from, and a lovely time talking to people I hadn't seen in years. And some Japanese practice with an acquaintance, though I think because of the beer, she forgot that I'm not that great and just launched into full native speed and I followed along as best as I could.

At ten they threw everyone out. Some people were going on to a bar called Koba and originally I was planning on joining them, but on the walk there I started getting more and more twitchy in a way that told me that it was time to go back to the hotel. So I said my goodbyes, walked back to the hotel with a friend, and read until [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd came back and then went to bed.

Steps taken: 14050.

Note: If you're interested in more about Chiyoda, I did a whole blog series about it here.

Miyajima: Thursday

2016-Jul-21, Thursday 22:53
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
After a delicious breakfast of broccoli, rice, pickles, hamburger, sweetened omelet, salted mackerel, burdock root, breaded fish paste (がんす, a local dish), tea, and pudding with caramel sauce (Hotel Active, for all your Hiroshima visits!), I went back to the room, got my suitcase, and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I headed down to check out right on the dot of our requested 9 a.m. departure time. Then we walked out onto Aioi-dōri and set to wait for the streetcar.

Hiroshima's street cars are a local institution. They've been running since before the war--there's actually at least one car that's been in service since before the war and survived the bombing--and Hiroshima actually turned down proposals for a subway network in favor of an underground mall because, well, they already had the streets cars. I've spent uncounted hours of my life on them, what with my incredibly long commute to and from Suzugamine every day, and sitting on them was kind of like stepping back into the past.

I had forgotten the little chime they play when the car starts moving after a stop, though...

We rode the streetcar to the end, past the stop where I used to get off for work, though now renamed to 修大附属鈴峯前駅 (Shudaifuzoku-Suzugaminemae Eki) since the school combined with a boys' school due to low enrollment. Even the old ramen shop, おじいちゃんの作ったラーメン (Ojiichan no Tsukutta Ramen, "Grandpa-Made Ramen"), was still there, though we didn't have time to go.

Then at Miyajima-guchi, we took the ferry across to the island.

At high tide, too.

After dropping our luggage off in the coin lockers and showing our friends the asshole deer of Miyajima--[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd has a video of me leading a deer around using a wrapper from an ice cream cone, but it just looks like I'm using elf magic--we headed straight over to Itsukushima Shrine to take advantage of the high tide for some nice views. It was all set up like the aftermath of a festival, maybe Tanabata, with a floating stage. There was even a priest in the actual shrine conducting a ceremony, which I've never seen before. And that also means that I had no idea what the ceremony was for, either.

After we went through the shrine, everyone was pretty hungry and [ profile] xoDrVenture wanted oysters, so we stopped into the first restaurant we saw that was serving them. I got anago-don, fried conger eel over rice, because while I've made some effort to stick to kashrut during this trip, I'm willing to make an exception for Miyajima eel. And one of the waitresses wanted to touch my hair when we left and said it was soft.

After lunch we headed into the shōtengai to do some shopping and snacks in preparation for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I climbing the mountain. We bought a set of tea cups and a wooden case for putting matcha in, and I drank a "banana milk" (basically a smoothie). After heading down to the other end of the shōtengai, we walked back and went to the rope way stop. Originally it was going to be four climbers, but by the time we got there the group had been whittled down to just [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and me, so we dropped off our excess gear with the people going up the ropeway and took our first steps on the trail up Misen.

Mossy rocks, my favorite.

The climb up Misen isn't the hardest climb in the world. Most of it is worn stone steps like those shown in the picture, and even though the heat and humidity were brutal at sea level they weren't as bad under the tree canopy. Of course, we were climbing a mountain, so we were sweating buckets in any case.

We saw quite a few people coming down the mountain, and there was a work crew fixing one of streams that run underneath the steps in some places. There was also an old Japanese man who gave [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd his fan when he met her, saying that he no longer needed it since he was coming down the mountain. That occurred near the bottom, which I'm glad of because that fan came in pretty handy on the climb up. I'm not sure I've ever been as disgusting as when I reached the top, except for the last time I climbed Misen.

[ profile] tropicanaomega and [ profile] xoDrVenture were waiting for us at the railway station near the summit, another friend and [ profile] tastee_wheat having gone to make the climb to the top. I went over to buy some ice cream, only to have the woman working the food desk ask me in pretty good English if I had been at the kagura performance the previous night. I recognized her, since she had been there with an American guy and she said that she knew us because he talked to us. That was the basis of our interactions though, so I ordered my ice cream, ate it, then waited for everyone to assemble.

We took the rope way back down and then the shuttle to the Miyajima Seaside Hotel, where I've stayed with my parents before and where [ profile] aaron.hosek, who went ahead to Matsumoto, had arrived first and asked them to send the shuttle to us. We went to the hotel, checked in, and the showered to get slightly less utterly disgusting and changed into our yukata for dinner:

I'm a little surprised it actually fits.

Dinner was, of course, amazing:

This was about 60% of it.

We ate pretty much until near exploding, though slowly, which helped prevent any actual explosions. It was a little under two hours total for dinner, between the different courses, the talking, and the slow eating of many tiny portions, and was the best meal I've had yet in a trip full of great meals. When we were done, we all got dressed up in our yukata except for one of us who wanted a bit more opportunity to,rest and went down to the front desk to ask the shuttle to take us back near the shrine.

Itsukushima is lit up at night, but it wasn't as pretty as I remember it being this time. Or maybe it was just that even though the sun had gone down it was still incredibly sticky. We walked from the pier to the shrine, past it a little until the houses started and the streets started to remind us of Fatal Frame, and then back to the pier, where I successfully called the hotel to ask them to come pick us up. Back at the hotel a bunch of people went to the onsen, but I took advantage of the facilities in a different fashion--I took a bath in the huge bathtub, which was actually large enough for the water to cover my knees. When I started to feel a little cramped, I drained out the water, dried off, and went to bed.

Steps taken: 17538

Tokyo: Sunday

2016-Jul-17, Sunday 22:40
dorchadas: (Eight Million Gods)
We woke up at various points from "before dawn" to "early morning" and eventually all made our way down to the cafe across the street from the hotel, where we took advantage of the ¥350 all-you-can-eat breakfast. It was super simple--coffee and tea, bread and butter, and soup of the day--but six of us ate it and the seventh got beef curry while we talked about what to do. The attendant came over and asked us in halting English if we were all friends, and I explained in Japanese that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I had lived in Japan and were showing friends around. She asked if she could take our picture, we agreed, and now I wonder if it'll be up on the cafe wall eventually

Food done, and with a brief stop at Lawson to get some more snacks including the first store-bought onigiri I've had in five years, we headed off to Meiji Jingu, past the line of billboards with Password-senpai and User-kōhai encouraging people to strengthen their computer security.

Back again.

Meiji Jingu is the first place I went my first day in Japan, so it has a special place in my heart. But the other reason we went there is that nothing else was open, so we didn't hurry too much, even paying to get into the Treasure Museum and look around at the articles of the Meiji Emperor and taking the long--and much less crowded--route through the forest to get back to the main gate. Then it was time for lunch.

After wandering up and down Omotesandō and finding several restaurants that looked good but had lines out the door, we went to our old standard of Chaiyaphum, a Thai restaurant on the fourth floor of 原宿八角館, at the south corner of the 神宮前 intersection. It was still open and still delicious, and while I apparently confused the waitress when I asked for a dessert menu, we managed to order dessert too. Coconut ice cream with toasted coconut in coconut milk for me and durian ice cream for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, which pretty much was like using chemical weapons on the table.

[ profile] xoDrVenture also had a quote after using the bathroom in the building:
"Toilets here are either holes in the floor or robots."
After a quick stop at Baby, the Stars Shine Bright, where [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd bought a set of hair ribbons on sale--as cute as most of it is, it doesn't have much practical utility or opportunities to wear it elsewhere--and then we set out to walk to Shinjuku Gyōen, since it wasn't that far and we'd get to see some of Tokyo along the way. And we did, working our way through the crowds until we passed a shōtengai and the crowds thinned out like they had been cut off by a knife. The rest of the walk was just us and a few people out and about, as well as a sizable police presence by the Turkish Embassy.

Shinjuku Gyōen has a lot of amazing trees:

It's like someone twisted a couple trees around each other.

We got turned around a few times and walked probably more than we had to, but we checked out the Japanese garden and the lakes before the fact that we had been walking for nearly ten hours finally caught up with most of the group, and we headed back to the hotel to rest before dinner.

Dinner was at Seikōan, a yakiniku restaurant that we found after a bit of wandering around and having our original choice be totally full. Filled with meat, we went to Penguin Bar to see if we could get in and see the penguins, but an ¥800 cover and a two-drink minimum drove us off. Instead, we headed to Taito Arcade, where two people split off to play a game called Gunslinger Stratos, where about all I could tell from a quick watch is that one of the characters (the schoolgirl, of course) exists only to provide panty shots. [ profile] tastee_wheat and [ profile] tropicanaomega found a Pokkén Tournament head to head setup, and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd played Taikō no Tatsujin a bit. Then another friend challenged me to a game, and while that was going on, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd snuck off and won me a Neko Atsume plushie from a crane game!

I'm a real-life kitty collector!

After a quick stop at Mister Donut for dessert, several people expressed the desire to go back to the hotel and get some water, because it turns out that constantly seeping a thin film of sweat due to gigantic humidity and walking all day requires extra water to avoid dehydration!

And all that walking and dehydration kind of caught up to us, and we went to sleep pretty soon after.

Steps taken: 21704
dorchadas: (Chiyoda)
Walking Path
This is shown from pretty near our house. If you turn the view around and go down the road a ways, you'll be able to see it on the left. And you should probably turn the view around at least a bit, because this section of road's pictures were taken in fall and the trees are great. The momiji especially are spectacular.

This is the road that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I would always walk on when we went for walks. We'd go forward a ways, then turn right along the river for a short distance, then turn right again and walk down what was called the "old road." Considering that Chiyoda has a festival that dates back 500 years (which I'll write about in a later tour post), it makes me wonder if the old road has been there for centuries and the paved version we'd walk on is only its most recent incarnation.

Forest Shrine
I'm partially including this for the fall colors, but also as an example of the little shrines we'd stumble on when walking around town. There were at least three of them within a mile of our house--one of them is just down the road from the brewery, if you want to go back to Part I and look around--and there are probably half-a-dozen others around there that we missed. Japanese people are pretty famously irreligious, but I think a lot of that is just a different understanding of religion than the usual Western attitude. Nearly everyone I knew went to a local shrine on New Year's Eve, but they'd never characterize it as a religious thing. it was just part of being Japanese. Which is the traditional understanding of religion, really--the idea that religion is somehow separable from culture is mostly a modern conceit.

If you turn right and click down the road to the bridge, you can see the water-filled depression in the road that collapsed during a heavy rainstorm. We also caught two students necking under the bridge at one point, but we didn't say anything and just walked on by. Teachers in Japan and somewhat expected to police their students behavior when they're out and about, but neither of us bothered with that.

The Koyamas' House
The Koyamas were one of the families who came to the neighborhood English class we taught. I've written about their younger son Kazuo before here, but their elder son Naoyuki is the one who brought us the katana that's currently resting above our mantle and who once came by our house and asked if we wanted to go firefly-gazing. Relatively early on, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I walked by the house when the Koyamas were having a barbeque outside, and they beckoned us over and invited us to sit and eat with them. It was moments like that that really make me remember Chiyoda fondly.

We also did our part for tolerance, since Mrs. Koyama told us that before she had interacted with us during the class, she had been kind of scared of foreigners, but after meeting us she wasn't scared anymore.

Forest Path
Sadly the Google van didn't go down that path, because we'd walk down there a lot. Just around the corner there is a grove of bamboo, and then a few family grave sites, and then a set of weathered stone steps leading up to a shrine of Hachiman that we'd frequently stop at. One of the first times we went there, we ran into the shrine keeper and had a brief conversation, but every other time we went it was deserted. Sadly, I don't have a clean picture of the entrance or the shrine itself. You're always a terrible tourist where you live.

Stonecarver's House
At least, I have to assume it's a stonecarver's house with a display like that outside. A lot of what's there were graves, but there's also plenty of stone lanterns and just lawn statues like the owls right at the bottom of the image.

The reason I included this image can be seen if you zoom in a bit and look behind the stone table, just to the left of the two Hotei statues. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I always used to think of this as the gravecarver's house, and every time we would see that, we were happy that it wasn't somewhere out there decorating a child's grave. I realize now that it was intended as a lawn ornament, which makes me a lot happier.

Creepy Shrine
Most of our tiny mountain town fit the good stereotypes of a small town. We had neighbors invite us over for barbeque and to the local festivals, bring us vegetables and rice during harvest season, by us drinks when they saw us in local bars, all of that. They also talked about our house being creepy and looked into our basket when we went shopping, but on the whole, I think the good outweighed the bad by a lot.

Sometimes, though, there were scenes straight out of Fatal Frame. The stairway in our house was one, with narrow, steep wooden steps with no railing and a single bulb at the top. The entrance to this shrine was another. During full daylight it wasn't so bad, though even then the layout was a bit creepy. Those steps led up through the trees to an empty clearing of grass and dirt, and then there were more stairs at the far end that led up to the actual shrine. But if the sun was even a bit obscured...well, you get the picture there. At at actual night? We usually crossed the road to avoid the darkness that seemed to spill almost palpably down the stairs. If there were J-Horror ghosts anywhere in Chiyoda, they lived at that shrine.

The shrine was maintained by the neighborhood who had twice-yearly cleanings, and our friends the Kaminakas mentioned that they had taken a turn at cleaning it in one of the pre-class English "what have you done since last class?" discussions we instituted. I remember being surprised at that at the time, because he hadn't been killed by murderous ghosts. If you've lived in the country for a long time--and in Japan, "the country" has basically no streetlights"--you're probably used to that kind of darkness around, though.
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, 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.
dorchadas: (Zombies together!)
I'm tempted to replay Portal through again, since the new one comes out on Tuesday (before Episode 3, which is the new Duke Nukem Forever to me, even though it hasn't really been all that long). So much else to do, though...well, all in due time, I suppose.

I just beat Arcanum, and I do admit that it deserves all of the praise that was lavished on it. And a lot of the complaints, too. By about level 14 (out of 50), I could beat groups of monsters twice my level by abusing the magic system. By level 30, I was an unstoppable demigod who probably could have killed everyone in the game. The plot and mechanics are really good, though. It's entirely possible to be a crazed murderer and still finish the game because any important figure can have their spirit ripped from the afterlife and interrogated for important info. Similarly, if you know the Resurrection spell, a lot of quests take into account that you could find that the only person who knows the secret info has been murdered by assassins, resurrect them, and then join forces against the person who killed them originally.

The end boss annoyed me a bit, though, mainly because it's another one of the "Death is better than life, life is suffering, death is peace, I will bring peace to the world through death" negaBuddhist omnicidal maniacs you get so often in JRPGs. Plus one for the option to get into a philosophical debate and convince the guy he's wrong, though. Also the option to join him and actually wipe out all life on the planet.

We just this week got back from Tokyo to see [personal profile] fiendishfanfares, her husband and a couple of her friends. We went to a lot of the standard places I've been before, as is our custom, so I won't go into that again, I'll just deal with the highlights. The first was when we went to Meiji Shrine, we ran into a group (around 6-7) of Japanese college students who came over to talk to us and asked if they could show us around. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I had been there before, of course, but [personal profile] fiendishfanfares and the others hadn't, so we agreed. Some of the things we were told we already knew (how to properly purify ourselves, etc.), and some things were new, but the main neat part was talking to some people who obviously cared about learning English and were actually pretty good at it. It turned out they were students at Tokyo Foreign Language University and most of them weren't actually studying English. The one who showed [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I around was a French Major, there was a Czech Major there too, and one English major whose accent was frankly amazing. We ended up friending our guide on Facebook, and she's said she'll show us around there and the Imperial Palace when my parents come to visit. Neat :)

The second is the first real racism I've experienced in Japan ([personal profile] schoolpsychnerd ran into some at Mt. Fuji, of all places, but I didn't go on that trip). We went to an izakaya in Roppongi that had a 400 cover charge for non-Japanese people. I mean, I suppose it's possible they charged Japanese people too...except that it was only mentioned on the English menu and in English signage. Nowhere in the Japanese literature I read said anything about it. This kind of thing is still perfectly legal in Japan, even though the UN is always on the Japanese government's ass to do something about it. The government's response is usually that it would be "impossible to enforce" (which basically translates to "Fuck you gaijin, we don't care about your standards."), so there's no much I can do about it other than pay extra and be extremely annoyed. Oh, and I guess ask my sister if she wants to experience actual racism, which would be so ludicrously clueless upper-middle-class hipster I might do it just for the total irony that wraps back around into idiocy. Or something.

While we were there, a lot of people kept thanking us for coming. The college students at Meiji and the chefs at the sushi restaurant in Tsukiji (which was deserted. When we went there a year and a bit ago, there were probably 200 people waiting for seats on restaurant row. This time, there were maybe 20, if that) were especially kind.

The other weird things was doing translations. I mean, I really actually liked it, a lot (and wouldn't it have been fucking lovely to find something I'm good at, have talent for and enjoy earlier? I'm good at and have a talent [or so I'm told] for writing, but half the time I don't enjoy it :p), but I'm nowhere near even conversationally fluent in Japanese, so it was still a bit strange to be always translating for other people. The context-based nature of the Japanese language does help, though. Leaving stuff out, leaving sentences hanging, and so on is a fixture in daily speech, which worked to my advantage. When the fare adjustment machine wouldn't refund us the 10円 we had overpaid by, we went to the ticket counter, and I got as far as "Ticket Refund Machine" and a slight pause to think of how to format "isn't working correctly" (I think you can use 働く, which usually means "to work" in the sense of "I work at a movie theatre," in the "that machine doesn't work" way, but I'm not sure) and he ended up refunding us the money and writing us a new transfer ticket that got us all the way there. That was nice.

Also, totally random thought. You visit tons of planets in Mass Effect, and lots of them have ruins. If you look at the dates, it quickly becomes obvious that the ruins all date back in in multiples of 50,000 years. Foreshadowing!


2011-Jan-03, Monday 01:52
dorchadas: (Zombies together!)
[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I had a few people[1] over for New Years, avoiding our error in previous years by not traveling anywhere. Well, other than to one of the local shrines. I asked Kaminaka-san if he knew of any place doing anything for 初詣 (hatsumōde, the first shrine visit for the new year), and he told us a couple. One of them, the one in Mibu (the same place that has Mibu no Hanadaue in the summer), has a small event for the New Year, so we all watched Firefly until midnight and then went to Mibu-jinja. I slightly misunderstood the directions at first, but after seeing which way everyone else was walking, we managed to find the shrine (and as a bonus, I now know how to say "T intersection" in Japanese).

In addition to the typical hatsumōde events, there was a service going on inside the shrine. We stayed for a moment outside, unsure what to do, but after seeing that people were entering and leaving freely we went inside. There were musicians playing (a bit similar to kagura, actually), and after some chanting, they had everyone come up, take a branch tied with a white ribbon, and offer it at the shrine. We did (I stood up first, the others took a little urging from one of the people nearby), and then we left, along with half the people inside. It makes me wonder if they just ran the same thing over and over in a loop, and people would drift in and out as they came to the shrine. I'm not sure to ask who would know, however.

Unlike any of the previous six months, we're ending this month with more than ¥10,000 in our bank account. First we had the Singapore trip, then car trouble, then a number of other things kept cropping up. We're actually quite lucky that we never needed to request a pay advance to withdraw money using our credit cards or anything, but now we're mostly in the clear. It was a bit harrowing, and somewhat humbling, since I considered myself good at financial planning (our savings rate in America was around 30% of our post-tax income. A rate high enough that if everyone did it it would destroy the economy) but we still kept running into problems. I think I got a bit lazy--I never bothered to save receipts in America, since buying everything with a credit card left a record of our purchases that I could use to determine where our money went. That doesn't happen in a country where everything is done in cash, though, so now I keep records.

I've been playing a game called Winter Voices lately, which is quite an odd little game. The basic plot is that the main character's father has just died, and the game (so far) is about her dealing with his death. All of the RPG-style combat that takes place is a metaphorical representation of her coping with her grief. As such, combat isn't usually about defeating your opponents, since you can't really destroy your own memories. Instead, it's typically about surviving a certain amount of time or reaching a certain spot on the board.

One interesting consequence of this is that success and failure aren't binary. Being "defeated" in most battles just means that you weren't able to deal with the past, so instead of dying you lose a percentage of the xp you'd normally get and have the option to retry if you want.

The story is a little slow (I've played for a couple hours and I don't know much at all, except that while the men in the village my character is in seem to like me just fine, some of the women are cold or dismissive. Mysterious...), but it helps fit the mood. What doesn't really fit the mood is the walking speed, which makes it take forever to get anywhere, and the animations. Memories in combat with you get multiple attacks and have relatively slow animations (and I'm not sure how to speed them up, or if you can), which means large battles can take forever because of all the slow animations taking place. The other minor issue is that the game is by a French company and sometimes there are translation goofs or odd word choices which do a great job of snapping you out of the mood they're trying to create. These are pretty rare, though. It's interesting, but I'm not sure I'll have the patience to play through all of the seven episodes they have planned. I may also have been better off not picking the hard-mode class to play on my first go through, though even so I'm doing pretty well.

This is the most I've written here in a while that wasn't a story.

[1]: My blog is hampered here by my policy of avoiding real names, I think. Still, nothing much to be done.
dorchadas: (Zombies together!)
Wow, I expected that I would have posted earlier than this. Maybe I need to adopt some sort of project like [ profile] tropicanaomega did in order to make me post more often? You think nothing worthwhile happens in your life, but something like that shows you that it's easy to find a lot to talk about even in seemingly mundane things.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I did go to Tōkyō, as I mentioned. There isn't actually all that much to talk about there, since it was New Year's and almost everything was closed. This was actually the same problem we ran into last year when we went to Kyōto, and I'm not sure why we didn't think of it earlier. I showed [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd some of the places I went to when we first went to Tōkyō a year and a half ago, and we went shopping in Shibuya at 109, where [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd bought a hat. The most fun part was for New Year's Eve, where we went into Ueno Park at midnight to a small shrine with a bell and rang the bell to welcome in the new year. It turns out the shrine was over 500 years old and had been mentioned in a poem by Bashō. That was a lot of fun.

I need to take more time and write these sooner after they happen. I'll try to do that in the future.

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: (Broken Dream)
Even though I've had real ramen now, I still like having instant from time to time. Maybe it's all the preservatives and crap they put in it--I'm so used to having them in my diet that I need an infusion every once in a while.

A few days ago when I went to Thanks, I was walking out with bags in my arms when I saw two guys on the other side of the door. Spikey hair, black and red clothes, chains, sullen expressions, the works. I was a little curious what they would do when they saw me, but they were coming in the door that I was going out, so I held the door open for them. When they saw me, their sullen expressions vanished and they started grinning.

They said, "Hello!" and bowed, so I said, "Hello" and bowed.

And they said, "Thank you!" and bowed, so I said, "You're welcome!" and bowed.

Then they said, "Thank you!" and bowed, so I said, "You're welcome!" and bowed.

After that they said, "Nice to meet you!" and bowed, so I said, "Likewise!" and bowed. Then they went inside and I went back to my car. Note that other that the fact that this was in English, this sort of conversation isn't really a rarity in Japan.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went to 宮島 Miyajima, literally "Shrine Island," last weekend. Some people might know the famous "floating torii" of Itskushima Shrine, which is built out over the water, a legacy of the time when commoners were banned from setting foot on the sacred island and had to approach the shrine by boat. It looks somewhat less impressive in person than it does in the pictures, mainly because all the pictures carefully screen out the view of Hiroshima you can see over the bay. It's also less impressive at low tide, but it still looks quite pretty for all that. The most interesting part of the shrine to me, though, was the Japanese wedding in progress there when we went. We also found a museum dedicated to the island's history down a small side street. Most of it was in Japanese, and the few signs in English were of less than stellar syntactical quality, there was a nice series of paintings depicting a struggle between two daimyo during the 16th century.

I start my new job on Wednesday. I'm a little nervous--I haven't really done lesson planning on any major scale before. I know they aren't going to throw me into teaching the moment I get there, and it's apparently only 24 class-hours per week, but...well, we'll see, I suppose.

More events

2009-Feb-11, Wednesday 00:46
dorchadas: (Zombies together!)
Hmm. There's been a few things happening to be and I haven't gotten around to posting them yet. Here we go.

The interview in Hiroshima went well, and now they want me to come in and teach a demo lesson involving the class reading and discussing an article from The Economist. That'll be either this Saturday or next Saturday, presumably next since they haven't gotten back to me yet.

While I was in Hiroshima, I went to an Indian restaurant called Spicy Bar Lal's for lunch. After I order my food, I pull out my iPhone to look around on the internet while I'm eating and the Japanese businessman next to me, who's probably in his 50's or so, sees this as his opportunity to practice his English and starts a conversation about it. I make a few offhand remarks about the iPhone, and noncommitally ask where he lived when he was in America. Then he says Chicago, which piques my interest a bit more. It turns out that, 20 years ago, he lived in Chicago for two years when he was attached to the consulate there. So we talk about the importance of English, how Japan's population is declining so domestic companies need to look at foreign markets, the benefits of living abroad, teaching, and so on. He gave me some advice on looking for a job, since he currently works for the Hiroshima-ken Bureau of Labor. If I do get the job and end up teaching at any companies, maybe I'll see him again?

Tonight, we went to visit our future Japanese tutor--Hirata-san, the wife of a priest (Buddhist, I believe, judging by his clothing, though Hattori-san mumbled jinja under her breath when she was trying to tell us where they lived, so I could be wrong). She served us a very good meal and we talked a bit. She told us about how speaking English was one of her hobbies, so she made friends with a lot of the foreigners in the area, and told us some stories. Apparently a college in New York (I don't remember which one) had a branch in Chiyoda in the early 90s, but it closed after only a couple years. She agreed to tutor us in Japanese conversation if, in exchange, we would help her practice her English. Not exactly a hard bargain there, and people who know English well enough to teach it and who don't already teach English in high school are pretty rare up here in the mountains.

As a random side note, one of her stories mentioned her grandmother, and how she was a "daughter of the shrine." Apparently her family has been priests at the shrine for at least a century, and possibly longer. Kind of neat. ^_^
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!

Shrine maidens!

2008-Aug-23, Saturday 16:52
dorchadas: (Zombies together!)
...okay, neither of them were actually maidens.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went back to the shrine with a hundred steps to go check it out, and this time the caretakers were there--an old man and his (I presume) wife. I went over to look at the purification pool, which had clean fresh water in it, while she went to go chat with them. I went over just after she was done and she introduced me, using goshujin-san, because they were an older couple. You aren't supposed to use honorific prefixes or suffixes when talking about people who are close to you, but either they realized that we're still learning, or they just thought she was properly respectful of her husband. :-p

We chatted for a little bit. They asked us if we knew Japanese and English, and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd said "a little" and I said "we don't speak it very well." After that, the old man said, "Well, we can understand you!" which made us feel better. Then they said goodbye and got ready to go. When they saw that we were going to go pray, though, the old man got out again and showed us how to do the purification. We already knew (though he didn't know that), and most of what he said we couldn't understand. After a bit, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd pantomimed washing her hands and mouth, and he smiled and said, "Dōzo[1]." They left, and so we did.

There was another shrine on the way back, too, but that one's purification pool was totally dry.

[1]: You can translate it a lot of ways, though in this case, it obviously meant, "Go ahead."
dorchadas: (Do Not Want)
Okay, not exactly. I got most of it out.

I figured that if 90% of Japanese women under 30 can walk around Tokyo all day in 3 inch+ heels, then I can do it in sandals, right? Well, I can, but not very well--my pants are currently drying after I washed the bloodstains out. :-p

I walked from the hotel, past Shinjuku Station and down into Shinjuku Sanchōme before getting lost for a while. I could see Shinjuku Gyoen, but I couldn't find a way in. I eventually had to turn around and take several other streets before I found the main gate. It was a neat park--not amazing, but pretty. It used to be a private park for the Imperial Family, but after World War II it was opened up to everyone. There were a couple teahouses (closed, sadly) a Japanese garden, and English documentation was available from staffers who weren't actually there. There was an Engrishy wildlife guide which I grabbed, but I didn't see a single animal while I was there.

After leaving through the south gate and following the train tracks, I found the more interesting place of my visit--Meiji Jingu, the shrine to honor the spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken. I stood and watched people pray for a bit (and saw some shrine maidens, dressed in red and white with ribbons in their hair), took some pictures of the shring and tried to get into the Iris Garden except there's a 500円 fee to get in and I was too cheap to pay. :-p I now know the proper procedure for visiting a Shinto shrine, though. After wandering around the grounds I took the south exit and was relieved to see that Harajuku train station was right there.

While buying some peach nectar from a vending machine, I heard some people speaking English behind me and turned a bit to listen (you don't realize how much you miss it until 99% of the people around you are speaking a language you can't understand and most of them can't understand you either). They asked me if I spoke English, which I did, and we chatted a bit. They were both from California on vacation. We didn't talk long, though, because I was really tired, my feet were sore and I was right next to the train station. I wanted to wander around Harajuku a bit more, but...ah well. Maybe next time.

I'd like to live in Tokyo, I think--or at least a city with a mass transit system that's as good.

Ow, my feet

2008-Jul-28, Monday 15:56
dorchadas: (Default)
I probably should have bought those sandals more than the day before I left. That way, my feet would hurt less after spending five hours walking around in them.

After looking at maps for a while, I realized I was as ready as I was ever going to be and headed out for Shinjuku Station, Tokyo's busiest train/subway station (though I waited until 10 a.m. to make sure that I'd miss the rush hour crowd--that's also why I didn't stay out later), spent 15 minutes watching people use the ticket machines while I tried to figure out how they worked, and then bought a ticket--which took all of 10 seconds -_-. I then proceeded to get on the wrong train, but fortunately the Yamanote line runs in a big circle, so the only problem is that it took an extra 10 minutes to get to Ueno Kouen (park).

When I got out of Ueno station, the first thing I noticed was the humidity. The second was the noise in the park--ever seen any of those anime that show a scene of the sky hazy with heat and then have cicadas buzzing or birds cawing to indicate it's summer? It was exactly like that, including the birds and cicadas.

Ueno Kouen has the highest concentration of museums in Tokyo, but unfortunately the big ones are closed on Mondays. T_T I still managed to find a bunch of neat stuff--the statue of Saigō Takamori, one of the most influential samurai of the Meiji Restoration; Tōshō-gū, a shrine dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate; and the Ueno Imperial Museum, which had a ton of wall scrolls and no English documentation whatsoever. I did manage to use my Japanese a bit, though--I went to sign in at the signing booth and wrote my name out in katakana ("ブライアンピット") with the calligraphy brush they gave me, after a bit of prompting when I forgot how to write ピ. I was planning on ordering lunch in Japanese at the restaurant I went to, but they sent the English-speaker waitress to take my order so I didn't get a chance. :-p

Also, you know you're in Japan when even the museum restaurant has a guy in a suit showing people to their seats.

After I left the park, I took the train back a couple stops to Akihabara to look around a bit. I didn't go far, because it looked really easy to get lost and I didn't actually want to buy anything anyway, but I did manage to find a gift for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd--a pink shirt with 萌, the kanji for "moe" on it. ^_^ I also walked a bunch of maid cosplayers selling things or advertising for something, but I spent enough already wandering around.

Then I came home, because my feet were killing me and I was hot and sticky and gross.


dorchadas: (Default)

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