Wednesday, October 14, 2009

posts, posts and posts

I've got a lot of posts about Japan. If you want to read the adventure in order, start here:

I'll hopefully have more posts up soon.

Kyoto: Ramen & Teapots

Tuesday we hit a few more sites in Tokyo and then left for Kyoto. We took the JR train and arrived there about 1.5 hours later. We found our hostel and started sightseeing. It was too late to see and do much but we were able to visit a paper lantern park and strolled around Gion - the Geisha district. We searched everywhere but we didn't see one Geisha. Apparently they were all at some evening, nightly show.

Since that was a bust, we decided we'd eat dinner and just enjoy the night. You can't go to Japan and not try their Ramen. They have a museum dedicated to this food. We visited a department store where they have "Ramen Street". Tons of different styles of ramen - who knew there were so many ways to change this basic noodle dish? Our friend Yoshi, from the hostel, told us to try a specific restaurant. Ordering ramen is tricky in Japan. We saw a line, so we just stood in it and figured we'd be seated soon enough. Well we kept seeing people put money in a vending machine, grab a ticket and then get in line. We soon learned that you make your selection through a vending machine and give your ticket to the hostess. Then, when you are seated, you only wait about 3 minutes for your meal to come out. The ramen was quite tasty - even if the photo doesn't appear show that - and we all enjoyed ours. Aftewards we wandered their market/food floor and we were able to sample and see hundreds of different types of food. Some were delicious and others made me gag.

We stopped at a china/glass shop and looked at some teapots, tea cups and other dishes. I wanted to buy a teapot for myself and I spotted mine within mere seconds. I walked over and grabbed it and a worker came over and told me it wasn't for sale - display only. I asked him if I could have that was for sale and he told me that all of them were gone; so I told him I wanted to buy the display and he told me no again. We argued back and forth for a bit and I decided to walk away and snatch the pot when he wasn't looking. Well he followed me like a hawk. Pirate and David Archuleta tried with all their might to distract him but he wouldn't take his eyes off me. I finally just started chatting with him and here's a sample of our conversation:

man: Where are you from?
me: I'm from the states.
man: Ah, I know the states. Which one?
me: Utah
man: Utah? ah - Oregon! I know Oregon.
me: well, Oregon is close to Utah.
man: I know lots of states. Are all of you from Utah?
Adam A: No, I'm from Ohio.
man: Ohio... Florida! I know so many states. Florida, California, New York state, Empire state (we didn't even bother to correct him on that one), Washington,
me: Yeah, the states are great. Wouldn't it be nice if I got to take this teapot home to the states and show everyone what I found while I was here?
man: I don't know. Very special teapot.
me: Yes and I'll take very good care of it. People in Utah will love my teapot.
man: ok, but take it and hurry before I change my mind.
me: Thank you so much!

As we leave he waves and starts mumbling more states. It was such a great night! Our next day was going to be insane so we headed home and went straight to bed.

Kyoto - Temples, Shrines, Bus rides and more Temples

Kyoto - Temples, Shrines, Bus rides and more Temples

Today would be our whirwind adventure in Kyoto. We got up early and starting our journey we were assaulted with warm temperatures and awful humidity the minute we left our hostel.

Sanjunsangendo - the temple with 1001 golden Kannon statues - was our first stop (maybe a 20 minute walk) and we were already wet from the humidity. The inside of the temples were okay, but it was the temple grounds that I found beautiful. So many trees, ponds, mini shrines - it was just gorgeous.

Our next stop was Ginkakuji - a Silver Pavilion with a neat Zen garden. Again - gorgeous grounds. I'm pretty sure I'll have a mini Zen garden when I own a house.

We then headed further up to Kiyomizu Temple (pure water temple). The walk to Kiyomizu isn't a bad walk, but when it's hot and humid it seems like the longest walk of your life. The tempuratures were probably in the low 80's but with 80% + humidity, that's a lot for a desert dwelling person to handle. These grounds were again gorgeous, but how I made it out alive I'll never know. I'm a bit of a klutz at times and between this temple and Ginkakuji, I fell about 5 times, twisted my ankle twice and slammed my head twice into two low door frames.

Here's a fun fact about Kiyomizu. You know the english phrase "to take the plunge"? Well Japan has one "to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu". Well people used to actually do this. They believe that if they jumped off the stage at Kiyomizu (about 50 feet), and survived, their wish would be granted. 234 people attempted this jump and the survival rate was about 84% - sadly this practice is now banned.

Next stop was for the Ryoanji and to see it's Zen rock garden. It felt so nice to take our shoes off at this point (shoes have to come off at most temples in Japan). We were able to sit and just stare at the rock garden.

I'm not sure if were relaxed and content because of rock garden or because we had covered 40% of Kyoto at that point in seven hours. Whatever the reason we were content to sit there for a good 20 minutes and just enjoy the quiet.

After Ryoanji we headed to Arashiyama to see the bamboo forest. To get there we had to take a bus ride with a few transfers. We got on the first bus and when our stop approached, we pressed our call button to notify the driver. The bus approached the stop, but then made a u-turn and didn't stop. After a brief, but hilarious, freak out moment provided by David Archuleta we realized the bus was done with it's route and we had to transfer to another bus. I've never seen a man panic like that, but it made my night.

We eventually made it to the bamboo forest and of course my camera battery died right as we entered. This forest is gorgeous and breathtaking and I would encourage you to go when it's still light outside. We were there right as night was coming and we weren't able to see it as well as I wanted. This photo isn't mine, but it gives you an idea of what this forest looks like.

Next up: "Ninja" Castle, Osaka for a day and bad food experiences


Since I was delayed a day, I missed out on visiting and staying at the Tokyo temple, but I still got to see it and even use the restrooms inside (heated toilets and bidet!).

We visited Asakusa that afternoon/night and were able to see a giant paper latern that leads to Senso-ji - Japan's oldest buddhist temple. We enjoyed a nice night of walking around and then headed to our hostel. Tonight we were staying in a capsule hostel. Capsule hostels are basically small little tube like bed chambers. They are cheap and popular in Japan.

For one night it wasn't too bad, but one night is more than plenty. The bathrooms were Japanese bath-house style (no privacy) and they offer traditional Japanese toilets (floor) or western style for us foreigners.

The next day we went to an English speaking ward in Japan and then headed off to see the Imperial Palace grounds. You can't actually go onto the grounds of the Imperial Palace, but you can walk around the outer lying park. From there we headed to Tokyo Tower where we met it's interesting mascot.

After visiting the tower, we went to Harajuku. Harajuku is a great area where the young people of Japan hang out and display their unique fashion, dancing and more. Sunday is a big day for them and we definitely got an eye-full.

While in Harajuku, we visited the Meiji Shrine. We were able to see a traditional Shinto wedding procession take place in the courtyard of the shrine area - it was beautiful. As you head up to most major shrines in Japan you will see a water station that is there for people to clean their mouths and hands with. It's believe that this purifies them before they pray at the shrine.

We spent the rest of the day at Yoyogi Park and were able to see more kids dressed up in the Harajuku style, a band peforming in the park, a demonstration of fighting with bamboo sticks and tons of little dogs. The park was gorgeous and it was a fun way to spend our evening.

Our next day in Tokyo we headed out to Mt Fuji. We weren't going to climb Mt Fuji, but we still wanted to go there and see it. Three hours and a few bus transfers later we were there and Mt Fuji wasn't. It was too cloudy and Mt Fuji was completely hidden.

In front of Mt Fuji

Since Mt Fuji was a bust we visited Akahabra, the electronic capital of Japan (and possibly the world, this place was huge). We then headed out to Rainbow Bridge and saw the Statue of Liberty. I've now seen all three statues - New York, Paris and Tokyo.

Next up: Kyoto!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Konnichi wa

Since I can't be brief about anything, I'm warning you now that there will be several posts for my Japan trip. You can read all of them, none of them, or just scan them.

This first story isn't about Japan exactly, but the adventure of just getting there.

My arrival to Japan was delayed by a day. The initial plan was that we'd meet up at the airport since I was scheduled to arrive about two hours after my friends landed (coming in from Ohio), and then we'd all head out together to our hotel. Well, after sitting for four hours on my plane, taxiing 4 times, deboarding for a "brieft period of time so the situation could be addressed" I was finally informed that my flight was cancelled and I wouldn't be leaving till the next day. I was mad and slightly anxious as I thought about how I'd meet my friends. I was also beyond tired due to two dramamine (I get motion sickness pretty easily) and also two doses of codeine laced cough syrup (I got pretty sick 3 days before I left and I didn't want to be quarantined in Japan - it seriously happens). I went home, called Fumiko (neighbor who is Japanese and helped me with planning some of the trip) and I had her help me plan a route to get from airport to hotel since I'd not longer be meeting my friends and going with them. I also emailed my friends and told them I had a plan worked out to meet them and that everything should work out. Fumiko helped me get everything straightened out and I went to bed somewhat calm that everything would work out. My parents picked me up, again, and I was back at the airport by 5:30 AM. After a 30 minute delay due to the pilots not showing up, we finally boarded the plane again and we were on our way. Just before the plan took off I checked my email once more only to read an email from Pirate and to find out that the address I had given Fumiko was for a hotel at a later date in our trip. I slightly paniced, but what could I do? Plus, I trust Pirate quite a bit and I knew she'd work something out.

I landed in Japan 11.5 hours later and I kept thinking "what if I never find them and I wander the streets of Japan alone?" The adventurous side of me loved this idea, but the logical side hated it and wanted to find my friends. I found an internet cafe in the airport and I was relieved to find an email from Pirate with instructions of where to go and what to do so I could find them; three subway transfers and several sets of stairs later I found them on a corner. I was so relieved to see them!

To see our adventures in Tokyo, click here.