Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Japanimawesome: Osaka

Land of the Nippon, Nikon, Nissan and Mazda. And Sony. And Mitsubishi. And... yeah. Lots of stuff. Lots of coolness too -Japan was a fantasmical trip where good food met our needy stomachs. We had only 8 days in Japan, so we wanted to make each one count.
The first day was in the city of our landing, Osaka. It's a cute little city near Kyoto (only $5 to get from one to the other by train) that was pretty much levelled in WWII when the US firebombed most of the country. But, I think there are 2 cultural relics still standing in the city, the first being some shrine thing, and the second being Osaka Castle, built by the dude who unified Japan AND invaded Korea in the 1500's! He was, essentially, the initiator of 500 years of bitterness between two neighboring countries, but dude could he build a castle.

We pulled in around 7pm to the Minami (South) part of the city, where we plunked down in our 'petite salle': the room was like a big closet and the door would bring many a fond memory to the mind of a wandering hobbit.
On a side note here, when I worked at Douglas College, I met many Japanese dudes who were quite stellar, and fortunately, most were in the cities we were visiting. In Osaka, we were able to see Akiya, Makiko, Misato, and Masako (say that 5 times fast), and it was so nice to enjoy their company and their expertise in the intricacies of Osakan life. SO, after viewing our room and settling in, we gave Akiya a call. When he saw our place, he said:
"Um, this is where homeless people stay when they have money."
Then we said,
"Akiya, the doors really small."
"Ok, you should come to my place."
It's not that we weren't appreciative of our wee abode, but who could pass up the opportunity to stay with a Japanese family? And especially when we actually knew them?! (Sort of) So, we were really fortunate to have stayed here instead:
That's right: sliding rice-paper doors, wood floors with a cool hallway thing, sleeping on the floor on tatami mats, and just coolness all around. They fed us real Japanese breakfasts of rice, beautifull cooked and rolled omlettes, puny salted fish (the Stan Rogers song "Catch tiny fish for Japan" finally made sense) with freshly grated radish and soy sauce... everything was "just so" and quaint as only Japan can manage. They also had a crazy little dog which we'll have to post after this -in all, the stay there was completely memorable and we are so thankful to have enjoyed that time with them.

The next day, we met up with the rest of the Osakan crew for a little sight seeing and castle viewing (historical relic #2).
The city sights...And a huge ferris wheel on the side of a building...Then off to the beautiful castle o' spledor:To build it, they diverted the river nearby to create this HUGE moat, with walls protruding out of it that were made from these monstrous stones that were shaped so precisely. It was quite daunting, especially considering how large the grounds were.
I know, you'd think we're Japanese. But actually, we're not.

That night we had dinner together, saw some sights and a short musical, and then went back to Akiya's place for his dad's massage chair (genius) and some more of their crazy dog. Then the next day, Akiya brought us all the way to the train platform (the dude is awesome) where we began our journey to Kyoto. So we said our goodbyes, boarded the train, and enjoyed the countryside.

Japanimawesome: Kyoto

Kyoto!!! This city is simply amazing. Everywhere you turn there's something beautiful to see, with ancient temples nearly every block and shrines nestled in the hillsides. It was peaceful and clean there too, which was brilliant: the Kamo river, which runs through the city, was cleaner than most in Canada and was also designated a wildlife reserve for the fishies and birdies that reside there.
Pretty much you could sum it up by saying that it was absolutely stunning. The architecture was gorgeous, the sites ranged from 800AD to 1500AD and were still standing and stunning. We both want to go back and see and chill some more.
The hostel we were staying at, Uno House, was just that: Uno's house. It was a traditional Japanese home but it smelled like 1970 and felt like a beatnik hostel. It was cheap, but itchy as a monkey and the showers (and everything) were like 75% sketchy. It was... interesting. But it did give us a roof over our heads so that was nice, and the people there were very nice as well.

So ANYWAY... on with Kyoto.
We got lost trying to meet up with Sara but, trooper that she is, she found us first. We hit up some sushi-train action and talked about our adventures thus far, then decided to walk around a bit. And for the next 3 days straight, that's all we did: walk around. Our legs were killer by the time we moved on to Tokyo, but it was great to walk so much because there is seriously SO much you can see there.
We visited a Shinto shrine near Gion, on the East of the Kamo river, and it's neat cuz wherever you go, there are always these little washing stations on the grounds. So cute. We had to use them.We strolled around the city a bit, looking for some place to eat, and we kept coming across these adorable little venues that were just so Japanese we couldn't resist taking a picture. Like really, a Japanese maple tree infront of a Japanese store thing! Kablamo!And then, because we had both read Memoirs of a Geisha, we made our way to:No Geisha sightings on our first night though. I have to admit, I felt a little creepy hanging out in this one alley, waiting expectantly for a geisha to show... along with 100 other tourists. There was something quite paperazzi-ish about it, and I lost all my nerve. There are certain things that make me feel all ick inside, and hanging out trying to take a picture of some ladies in their wares is definitely one of those things. At least now I'm aware of it. Hil had no problems with it, and that's good; I think it's because she's a girl and she's tough. Yeah, probably.

The next day, we walked again to do some temple viewings. We saw Kiyozumadera (sweet), this one below (big and also sweet) and, um, something else. I forget. Anyway, this one below was beautiful and expansive; it kept going up and up, and we even saw a 'service' in one of the temples. It's amazing that these buildings are 1000 years old and still being used. And they're made of wood. Spectacular.There were lots of dog-goyles around the shrines throughout the city.

And here's Sara, looking in the wrong direction.
Now I remember what else we did: we looked around the city more: up and down quaint little alleys, following our noses for some sweet meats and noodles, and simply admiring all that we could see. That night we met up with the 'Kyoto dudes' for some food and next-day planning. They were so sweet to come all that way to hang with us, and they provided a day full of cool sights for the next day: we saw the Golden Pavillion, a very famous rock garden, a cool in-the-distance cemetary and, uh, Starbucks where we also saw my friend Andrew Mack from Summerland BC! It was so great and random to see him! But yes, our pictures with the gals need to be posted later because of 'technical issues'. Needless to say, it was another day of beauty, gold and fun had by all.

On our last day in Kyoto, Hilary and I rented bikes to save us from walking, and we scoured the land for more pristine sights: temples, the Path of Philosophy (which is hard to find, by the by) and the Silver Pavillion, which is actually just old wood. At the Silver Pavillion, there was some beauuuuuuuuuutiful sand sculptures, one of which was a rendition of Mt. Fuji. A little small, but otherwise pretty accurate.The Kyoto girls saw us off, and gave me pre-birthday presents of my favourite Japanese treat, which is like a soft rice dough around different types of paste in the middle. Like a sweet, raw, tasty perogie, but better to snack on. Then we said goodbye, hopped on the bullet train, and took off for Tokyo.

We're both convinced that Kyoto was by far the best part of the trip, and fascinating in all regards. It's such a city that you know you have to go back and visit it, and that's exactly how we feel.

Japanimawesome Tokyo

Tokyo!!!! Yowzas baby!
We pulled in late off the bullet train from Kyoto (so fast and so cool) and, in typical Tokyo fashion, got lost. I don't know if you've ever been to the city, but ohmygoodness the subway/JR lines are a tad bit confusing. In essence, there are two train 'companies' running through the city with a total of like 60 individual lines. Yeah, sure beats ye old 'expo line' and 'millenium line' of the lower mainland! So we were in fact at Tokyo Station which was JR, and needed to get over to another station which would then lead us to the subway system which would lead us close-ish to our abode. I (Adge) got a little "FRIGGIDIGIBITEY!" but then a guy helped us and that was great. So we got to our station and realized we lost the map to our hostel... so we used some of our beautifully honed international signing skills and finally made our way to our hostel -which was AMAZING compared to Uno House! A TV! Good showers! No mold smell! No weird itchiness in the night! Niceness all around. We met up with Sara that night at a pubish thing nearby and reconnected over a beer. All safe and sound, we headed back to bed, then woke up the next morning to this beautiful sight:

A giant golden POO! Simply marvellous.

That picture was actually taken on Sunday when it was sunny, but on Saturday it was typhoonish in all aspects and we broke 2 umbrellas.

So that day, we hit up a cool museum, the Sony museum (very techie!), and various restaurants. That evening, we met up with the last bunch of Douglasers downtown for some birthday sushi, cake and karaoke!

It was great to see those crazy gals again: Yuika, Misato, Tomoe (her birthday on the 6th), Manami and even Atsushi (though he's not a girl). In the restaurant, they made me eat horse sushi for my birthday, like it was regular ol' california roll or something. Just craziness... didn't taste too bad but I still feel gross.

And karaoke was very cool! Expensive like a monkey, but very sweet! So there was no bowling this year, but I figure, I did the Japanese equivalent. It was a great birthday party and we had a marvellous time -we were SO soaked by the end of the day, but it was spectacular through and through -quite a memorable way to turn 25!

And then, I actually DID turn 25. Hil put presents on my feet while I was sleeping and then tickled me awake to a gorgeous Tokyo birthday day! We three piled downstairs and started opening up prezzies galore. Such a wonderful start to the day. Hil rules.

Next, we took a stroll into Tokyo and lo and behold! We found Godzilla! How cool! The dude was only like 4' tall but man, he's got a bad side and he's just letting everybody see.And what birthday breakfast would be complete without choclate-banana waffles and ice cream? That was the question of the day and so we sought to answer the Q with a little waffley-ice cream goodness. Delicious creamery joy.We continued our jaunt and found found a nice waffle-eating bench to sit at. So we sat.

And who would guess that we'd be seeing cats everywhere!!! In a certain park, that is. Yes, these cute lil' critters were to be seen sunning themselves all over the grounds and there were tins of cat food all along the walkway. I guess it was a kind of SPCA idea to have such a place not only for human citizens but also for the feline assortment. The park itself was across the street from the furthermost grounds and moat of the Imperial Palace.
The imperial palace was, well, hidden cuz it turns out the emperor still lives there. But the moat was nice! There was a swan too -see?

Later that day, we were to meet my old roommate Junji, and meet us he did. We hooked up at Shibuya, the famous intersection of Tokyo, and that was neat to experience. I can't believe that many people actually need to cross the intersection all the time. Perhaps they just do loops and they're actually paid to do it to keep up the 'busy' image. That's probably the case. Regardless, it was great to see. Then, one last sushi meal together in the city (by the way, don't try prawn raw -like, really raw prawn... it's gross and tastes like nothing so there's really no benefit to eating it) and then Hil and I said our farewells to Junji and our dear travel mate, Sara, and booked it on a midnight sleeper bus to Osaka.Our driver talked like he was both on speed and nervous, but we were able to make it safely to Osaka, where we caught the JR line to the lovely airport. And THEN!!! SO COOL: our flight was booked solid, so they moved us up to business class! There was so much leg room, so many snacks, so much comfort... I don't think I could go back. Well, I could, but man was it ever a sweet ride back to the smoggy skies of Seoul.

And so ended our trip to Japan.... we absolutely loved it and would actually like to go back. The people, the food, the sights.... it's the land of snow monkeys, and if that doesn't say enough, I don't know what else I could possibly say.