yinza: (Default)
2012-11-14 09:48 am
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the problem of productivity

All of a sudden this morning I missed my hour-long commute to school in Japan.

These days I have this horrible aversion to wasting time. I always have to be doing something, producing something, or I tend to be disappointed with myself. I tend to neglect things that are solely for my own enjoyment.

Travel has always been some kind of exception, though. If the getting from point A to point B is a necessity then the travel itself is already accomplishing something, even if all I'm really doing is sitting on a bus or a train.

My hour of transit between home and class was a liberation from this constant need for productive action. It was time that was already going to be eaten up. Anything left had some kind of sanction on it that it was purely mine to do with as I liked. I used to spend most of my mornings just listening to music and resting-- not quite dozing, but just that pleasant state before you begin to fall asleep when you might think about things or you might not. I would read manga or write letters or play Zelda. And I think it was good for me.

The main thing is that I just don't read much anymore. Reading a book requires the complete attention of my eyes and usually the occupation of my hands. I can't sew or draw or write while I'm reading, and therefore some part of me feels I'm wasting time when I do it. There's so much to get done, I can't afford to use up any time just sitting and reading.

I brought Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance along on the bus this morning. It's just a ten minute ride, but it was so calming. And then I got where I was going, and there was this little wave of disappointment because I know I probably won't pick it up again until tomorrow.
yinza: (Default)
2012-05-26 12:00 am
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Japan :: May 2012

A trip report for Katie's and my vacation to Ōsaka and Kyōto this spring. It's not exactly photo-heavy but there are pictures involved. Somehow I managed to limit myself to just 50 out of the nearly 700 I took. I tried to pick the best or most illustrative, but you are sadly missing out on some stunning photos of Starbucks and Toys "R" Us. Maybe I'll write up a separate report for that experience.

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2012-05-25 12:00 am
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May 25 - 26 : Men in Black and The Return Trip

On our last full day, we decided to do silly American things. We lunched at the McDonald's at the end of the street, and went to see Men in Black 3 at the closest theatre. Movies in Japan continue to cost about twice as much as in the US, and seeing it in 3D made it especially steep, but we did it anyway. The woman at the ticket counter made sure to confirm that we understood the 3D version was dubbed, but we really wanted to see Will Smith speaking Japanese. I also got a kick out of the villain's name sounding exactly like my last name when pronounced in Japanese.

The return trip probably had more stressful moments in it than the flight over, even though we knew there would be friendly faces to meet us on arrival.

First, there was simply the matter of getting back to the airport. If Kyōto Station made any sense to us, this wouldn't have been any cause for anxiety, but I was worried about finding the right train. Luckily we had spotted a promising ticket counter on one of our earlier fruitless efforts to find our own way, and in buying our tickets we were able to learn where the train left from and when. Expecting to be lost and confused for longer than we were, we had plenty of time before the train came, and the only trouble in getting on was figuring out which cars were non-reserved.

The train brought us directly to the airport, again in plenty of time. The place was also astonishingly empty. We bought some sweets from a souvenir shop, discovered green-tea-flavored Kit-Kats, and settled down to wait until we could board our plane.

This time, the entertainment system held out, and I watched no fewer than seven films on the flight to New York.

It was at JFK that we really had cause to worry. We had an hour and a half between flights, which would have been plenty of time had we just been transferring within the same country. However, we had to make it through US customs, which had nightmarishly long lines and ate up almost an entire hour. We scrambled to get our boarding passes for the flight home, and ran smack into another long line for security. I held our spot in line while Katie went up to one of the attendants and explained that our flight was boarding in about 5 minutes, and thankfully they let us through to the front of the line. We made it onto the plane, and my mom was there to meet us at the airport when we arrived.

After holding out until around 7 PM, I went to bed and managed to sleep until 4 PM the following afternoon.

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2012-05-24 12:00 am
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May 24 : Kinkakuji and Ryōanji

The golden pavilion.

Kinkakuji was the last big stop on our list of things to do, but we had been putting it off because it was on the other side of the city and not at all walkable. We boarded a bus headed that way, and were unexpectedly presented with surveys as we got on. Apparently that day they were conducting a survey of bus passengers, more for demographics I suppose since there were no questions about satisfaction. Unfortunately for the poor survey distributor, I could only manage to read either the question or the answers, and he had to help us fill ours out. Although, it might have been easier on him if he had seemed to grasp that I was asking him questions in Japanese; he kept struggling to answer me in English instead of explaining things to me in simple Japanese like I'd hoped.

It was a long bus ride to the Kinkakuji area, long enough that I started to wonder if we had maybe caught the bus in the wrong direction. We were starving by the time we arrived, and stopped in the first restaurant we saw for lunch. Here I had eel in soba noodles and broth, another very satisfying meal.

We moved on to Kinkakuji, where as expected there were a lot of school groups, and we tried to stay out of their way as we went along. This was particularly difficult when we decided we wanted to buy some charms, and I had to wait out the hoards of schoolkids buying them before even making it up to the window to hand over the money.

It was beautiful, but as with Ginkakuji, we found more enjoyment in the less popular temples. After exiting Kinkakuji, we decided that since we had come all the way out there, we ought to explore the area, and so we picked a direction and started walking. Eventually we came to Ryōanji, which boasted some extensive gardens around a large lily pond. The temple building itself was pleasantly shady, with a wooden deck winding around the exterior. A number of people sat admiring the rock garden, but Katie and I found it more amusing that everyone had to count the rock clusters (there are five). The garden itself, while apparently a fine example of a rock garden, didn't strongly appeal to us. We sat in the shade on the deck for a time before continuing back out of the temple and resuming our walk of the gardens with actual plants.

The garden pond.

The less rock-garden-like view from Ryōanji's deck.

On our return trip, the bus took a route different enough to disorient us, and we got off at Shijō Kawaramachi to be sure we landed somewhere we were familiar with. We bought some surprisingly pie-like pie on the walk back.

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2012-05-22 12:00 am
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May 22 - 23 : Shijō Kawaramachi

After hiking halfway up a mountain, our feet were again unhappy with us, and we spent the next two days doing very little with ourselves.

On the 22nd, we at least managed to get ourselves out and take a stroll up to Shijō Kawaramachi, the intersection of two of Kyōto's big shopping drags. We didn't accomplish much in the way of shopping, but we did at last find a restaurant that had kitsune soba on the menu. I had been craving it for days.

The following day, we did absolutely nothing. We considered going to a museum, but we didn't even step out of the inn until early evening when we decided we had better obtain some form of real food instead of living off snack foods. We stopped in another small restaurant which we had all to ourselves, I guess because of how early it was for dinner, and had some rice dishes. We went straight back afterwards.

The start of Shijō-dōri is just visible at the far left.

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2012-05-21 12:00 am
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May 21 : Chion-in and Fushimi Inari

We resolved to go to Fushimi Inari, but I wanted to go when there wouldn't be too many people, and I had read that the crowds thinned in the evening. That left us with most of our day still free, and after a slow morning we decided to at least go out for a walk.

Chion-in was probably the closest temple to our inn, and as we came to the sign for it, we decided this time to turn down the walk and take a look. A large part of the temple was, like at Kiyomizudera, closed for renovation, and the temple grounds were noisy and fairly empty of people. We took a different path down from the temple, however, and this led us along some lovely and quiet streets which somehow or other seemed to take us back to Yasaka Jinja yet again.

Chion-in's main gate, the largest in Japan.

Looking down at the gate.

Streets along our walk.

Some Japanese tourists actually followed us through here.

From there, we decided to make our way back to the inn before we wore ourselves out, and find some food along the way. Still a little jittery after our last restaurant experience, we stopped in a tiny place that advertised bentō. The woman there greeted us nicely and presented us with an English menu before we could get the words out that we didn't mean to eat there. We had the place to ourselves for the moment, so we decided why not? And sat down.

It turned out to be one of the best meals we had in Japan. I had white fish in a sweet sauce, and Katie had chicken, and each of our meals came complete with rice, miso soup, pickles, and three little side dishes. It was so good that I couldn't stand to let any of it go to waste, and downed Katie's miso soup--which she dislikes--in exchange for her finishing off my rice. Pleasantly full and refreshed, we returned to the inn to relax until evening came.

At about 4:30, we decided it was late enough to get a move on, before laziness settled in and we talked ourselves into going another day. We took the subway to Kyōto Station, and from there wrestled with the signboard; the few other travellers I asked didn't know what stop was nearest Fushimi Inari, and I didn't know how to write it anyway. Finally we resorted to asking at the information desk again, and then it was thankfully simple enough to find the right train.

As we got off at the small station and began our walk up to the shrine, I was gratified to see that there were more people leaving than arriving. For the first series of torī paths, we played leapfrog with a few couples and a family group, but the farther we went up the hill, the quieter it became. Eventually we were alone save for a few joggers passing us one way or the other. The late afternoon sunlight shone through the gaps between the gates, highlighting their edges in vibrant orange and throwing everything else into shadow.

Climbing ever higher.

As the sun sets.

We went farther up the hillside than I had been before, although there were paths going higher still when Katie decided she had had enough. I went a little farther to discover a sort of landing with a panoramic view of Kyōto and called her up to join me. There were some boys there taking photos and we smiled at each other. I still felt energetic enough to explore farther, and I left Katie at the landing while I went up a short path that led to another panorama.

The sun was finally setting as I rejoined Katie, and the sky deepened into evening as we made our way back down the slope. The lights amidst the torī had come on, little beacons in the semi-darkness. It was enchanting, and I think if I were to live in Kyōto at any point, I'd want to be near Fushimi Inari; the shrine is free and always open, and to be able to walk through it whenever I liked would be really amazing.

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2012-05-20 12:00 am
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May 20 : Sanjūsangendō

Our feet were against anything strenuous after the previous day, so to spare them we ventured out to the bus stop around the corner from our inn. Sanjūsangendō is located not too much farther south from Kiyomizudera, and most of our ride down was familiar.

We took a stroll around the outside of the building first to get an idea of its size, and then went on inside. While there was a steady stream of people through the temple, it wasn't as crowded as others. It also wasn't freezing cold like the other time I'd been there, so we didn't feel any particular rush as we made our way through the temple, reading about the various statues.

One thing I found particularly interesting which I hadn't picked up on before (probably because we rushed past all the additional displays straight to the heater) was that the temple had been used for archery contests. Archers would shoot from one end of the long building to the other, and the far end of the temple had once become so riddled with stray arrows that pieces of it had had to be replaced.

Is it bad to sneak pictures of monks?

The long side of the temple.

Even after walking around barefoot on the hard floor of the temple, we decided we felt up to walking back to the inn, and maybe seeing a few things along the way. Not far from Sanjūsangendō, we saw a trio of older ladies enter a temple marked Myōhōin. Thinking they were tourists, we followed them in... only to discover that there were apartments on the temple grounds and that they apparently lived there. Quietly we turned back around and tried to pretend we hadn't been following them.

Along the way back, we tried to find the streets Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka, which are located near Kiyomizudera. I think we did manage to find one of them and walk along it for a ways, but we weren't in a mood to shop, and after missing a turn and going off away from the main drag, we decided not to retrace our steps. We walked along quieter streets until we emerged in the familiar Yasaka Jinja, and from there easily found our way back.

A pagoda guiding us in the right direction.

Just a normal street, power lines, vending machines, and all.

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2012-05-19 12:00 am
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May 19 : Ginkakuji and the Philosopher's Path

I must have been feeling pretty confident in both my navigational skills and endurance to suggest this day's adventure, which was to walk from our inn to the start of the Philosopher's Path, and from there to Ginkakuji, and back again. The map we had made me reasonably confident that if we went along the street in front of Heian Jingū, we could continue on until it pretty much dead-ended into the Philosopher's Path.

In actuality, it was a series of streets that didn't line up perfectly with each other, and we reached some other body of water just two blocks short of the canal of the Philosopher's Path, prompting us to turn prematurely. We realized quickly enough that we had made some error, but it took us a little wandering around to stumble across the actual path, and we had missed the first section of it. Still, we enjoyed a pleasant walk along the canal until the path reached the street leading up to Ginkakuji.

A street on the way to the Philosopher's Path.

The Philosopher's Path.

There were a lot of small temples and just interesting buildings and shops along the path.

Bears fishing in the canal.

Also being a very popular temple, Ginkakuji was pretty crowded, but it seemed to come a little more in waves, so that if we stood still for a while in one place, a group of students would pass us by and we would have a little more breathing room. I'd found it very beautiful the time I'd visited in winter, but this time I was really enchanted with it in spite of the crowd. Everything was so vibrantly green and most of it pleasantly shaded. I would have happily spent quite a bit longer there, but the press of people bothered Katie more than me and eventually we wound our way back out.

The temple grounds as you enter.

I couldn't get over how green everything was.

We decided we were hungry, but in no mood to seek out an actual restaurant after the prior day's awkwardness. The day was hot despite the shade, and we got ice cream and rice puffs on our way down the hill from Ginkakuji. We stopped to eat on a bench at the start of the Philosopher's Path, where we wound up giving directions to some Japanese tourists looking for Ginkakuji.

Once we were ready to move on, we went only a little ways down the path before turning off to visit one of the other temples along the way. Hōnenin was practically deserted compared to Ginkakuji, and while much less extensive, it was still very pretty, and its seclusion made it all the more special.

Taking a different path out of Hōnenin, we stumbled across a rather extensive graveyard, which was completely devoid of people. It was very attractive in the dappled sunlight, and another section farther down the hill looked, from above, rather like a miniature city sprawled out below us.

Hōnenin's gate, which looks smaller here than it is.

Just a portion of the graveyard.

We resumed our walk down the Philosopher's Path, passing where we had entered before and coming across a woman who sat hand-painting postcards. As we were browsing her collection, a British woman joined us, and we chatted for a short while. She told us that she was in Japan for only 25 hours, having accompanied a friend on a conference, and that she had come over from Tōkyō. Understandably, she complained that her feet were killing her. I couldn't imagine taking such a whirlwind trip.

Our own feet had nearly had it at this point. We reached the end of the Philosopher's Path and turned to head back towards the inn. Luckily we didn't lose our way on the return trip, and once safely back we only ventured as far as the shopping arcade outside our doorstep for food.

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2012-05-18 12:00 am
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May 18 : Kiyomizudera

Feeling like we could handle a little more walking, we headed down to Kiyomizudera after a late breakfast. Although it had been among my favorite temples on previous trips, this time it proved to be so crowded that it was difficult to enjoy. A contributing factor may have been that part of the grounds was closed off for renovations, so the swarms of school children had fewer places to cram into.

The crowd thinned once we had gotten far enough away from the main deck, and we were better able to enjoy a view of the temple across the way as we made our way back down the hill.

A girl tries to navigate between the two love stones. Her friend is helping her cheat by guiding her left or right.

Kiyomizudera's main deck, where you can see the crowds of students.

By this time it was after 1 o'clock, and we felt that we ought to seek out some form of lunch, though neither of us was especially hungry. This sort of attitude was problematic when settling on a restaurant; nothing we passed seemed tempting enough to stop for. Finally we decided the next reasonably-priced thing we saw was going to be it.

Thus began one of the more embarrassing moments of our trip. The restaurant turned out to be inside a hotel, and in the US hotel restaurants are of a certain generic type and pretty friendly to people from out of town. I think this restaurant, though, was less associated with the hotel and just happened to be located inside the same building. It was down a short hallway in the back and through a sliding door, and was pretty small, with seats at the bar and a few tables. There seemed to be one chef and one woman who acted as hostess and waitress but had the air of the proprietess.

Since neither of us felt hungry enough to consume an entire entree on our own, we decided to split something. I didn't think anything of it because I'd split things before with Jenn, although in retrospect I think we'd only done this at chain restaurants. I had to explain to the woman here that we really only wanted one dish, and at first she just looked a little taken aback and disappeared. She returned later with our water and an explanation that I didn't completely understand, but we gathered that splitting a meal at a restaurant is just not a polite thing to do, and she warned us to "be more careful next time."

It felt rather like being scolded by someone's mother, and it made the entire rest of our dining experience rather awkward. It didn't help that I managed to drop a piece of chicken and get sauce all over myself. Not only were we rude and ignorant gaijin, we were also clumsy. Once we'd finished and paid, we beat a hasty retreat.

One of the gates into Yasaka Jinja, which faces out onto the start of Shijō-dōri.

On the way back to our inn, we passed through Yasaka Jinja, where we were approached by a group of students. Although the entire group was probably supposed to be practicing their English, they had delegated most of the work to one girl whom they deemed best qualified. She asked us a few standard questions about where we were from and why we had come to Japan, and one somewhat random question like "Foreigners see Japanese men as samurai; is this what you think?" I couldn't think of the equivalent English word at the time and provided them with sarariiman (salaryman), prompting a few anxious murmurs of "nihongo wo shiteru" ("she knows Japanese").

The girl doing all the talking tried to get some of her classmates to ask us something, finally prompting one of the boys to exclaim "Who is your favorite?" Katie and I weren't sure how to answer that, and the kids seemed to realize it was a silly question to blurt out, and we all dissolved into laughter. Then, of course, we all had to get our picture taken together. Finally, the girl handed off the survey to one of her friends to pull some things out of her backpack. As our reward for participating, Katie and I each received a little fan and a stationery set, which both parties agreed was sugoi (awesome). We thanked each other and went our separate ways.

For Katie and I, this meant walking on through the nearby park, and eventually back to our inn, where we began a Princess Tutu marathon.

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2012-05-17 12:00 am
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May 17 : Heian Jingū

We got a late start, wanting to take things easy, and didn't step out until lunch time. We went to a nearby restaurant called Hayashi which Yuko had recommended. It was small, but sort of cafeteria style, and we shared a table with a local though we never talked. A TV was on in the back, showing some gameshow or other.

The huge torī over the street leading to Heian Jingū.

After our meal, we walked on up to Heian Jingū, which was just a few blocks from our inn. I had been there before and hadn't been particularly impressed by it, but it seemed like the easy thing to do. Once we had taken a look around the shrine grounds, though, we decided to go through the gardens, which I hadn't done before.

The gardens more than made up for the empty space that seemed to rule the main shrine area. They were extensive, winding around the back of the shrine, and incorporated a lot of water in proper Japanese style. At first the path criss-crossed smaller streams, and then it opened up onto first one pond full of waterlilies and then another. The place was full of koi fish, and I fell in love with them a little here, the way their mouths opened and closed in that silly glub-glub motion.

Japan's oldest train sits in this garden.

One of the lily ponds.

Waterlilies.

Stepping stones across the pond.

We spent well over an hour meandering along the garden path, until at last it led us to a wide bridge where a number of people were sitting and enjoying the water and the weather. At the center, some children were feeding the fish and turtles beneath the bridge with food out of a box that simply had a note asking to leave money if you took any. We sat for a while ourselves before at last following the remainder of the path out of the shrine.

The bridge from across the water.

People relaxing on the bridge.

On the way back to our inn, we took a quieter street that went past the zoo, and picked up some fruit from the shopping arcade. We spent the rest of the day just enjoying the comfort of our room.

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2012-05-16 12:00 am
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May 16 : To Kyōto

Our short stay in Ōsaka was over, so we checked out of our hostel, and spent a good long while trying to find a direct entrance to the subway line we wanted out of the area. At last we took whatever way down we could find, and followed the signs below to the right line. We made the rest of the trip to Kyōto Station without incident, but the station itself proved on this and subsequent occasions to be even more disorienting than Ōsaka, so that we were reduced to asking directions to practically everything.

The interior of Kyōto Station, where we declared this Endless Escalator Day.

Our first such adventure at the station was getting money for our Kyōto rental. Like most places, they wanted payment in cash, and as expected for a 10-night stay, that was more cash than was reasonable to carry around with you most of the time. Katie had some American money which we got changed, and then we found the post office across the street, the closest place with ATMs. However, the post office ATMs have a limit of 10,000 yen per transaction, and I'd only withdrawn half of what I needed before the repeated transactions must have triggered something at my bank and it declined me.

Hungry, we decided to eat lunch and figure out what to do on full stomachs. After getting sandwiches at a cafe, we returned and tried the bank adjacent to the post office, to see if we had any other options, like cashing a check or withdrawing with credit cards that had no PINs. Although we were able to explain ourselves surprisingly well, the lady we spoke to told us there wasn't anything they could do. We returned to the post office ATMs and decided to try one more time at a different machine. Magically, it worked. I don't know if the other machine was just out of 10,000 yen notes, or if the fact that it had passed midnight back home had released some hold on my account.

The entrance to our shopping arcade.

Our check-in window wasn't until later in the afternoon, and we were too worn out by all our walking in Ōsaka and our little money adventure to do any exploring yet, so we just sat around in the station for a while talking. Eventually we went down to find the subway (for which we had to ask directions), and navigated to Higashiyama Station easily enough.

The inn, Sakara, was supposed to be down a covered shopping arcade very close to the station. So close, in fact, that we initially walked right past it before we even began looking for it. Luckily we backtracked before we'd gone to far, found the place, and went inside. The lobby was empty. We waited for about 40 minutes before deciding action was needed. Neither of us had a cell phone that worked in Japan, but there was a phone just barely within reach on the other side of the counter, and it had the owner's number on speed dial so we didn't have to repeat the disaster of our airport phone call. He picked up, and his wife Yuko came out shortly to check us in. She was very pleasant and provided us with a walking map, on which she pointed out a few key locations like bus stops and restaurants.

Once we had dumped our stuff in our room, we located a Lawsons whereby we obtained food, and used the remainder of the day to unwind. The room itself exceeded our expectations. We had expected it to be small, and while everything was very compact, it really had everything that we could want, including privacy from each other at the end of the day.

Our room's genkan and kitchen table.

The entirety of our kitchen.

The steep steps up to the futon loft.

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2012-05-15 12:00 am
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May 15 : Ōsaka Castle

The shrine next door to the hostel, Namba Yasaka Jinja, which we visited first thing.

We decided to do something a little more "cultural" and a little less like shopping, and took the subway to Ōsaka Castle. The stop let out just outside the NHK building and the Ōsaka Museum of History, which are adjacent. Unfortunately, the history museum is closed every Tuesday, so that was out. It was a little rainy, so it would have been a good choice.

We spotted some sort of tower monument before catching sight of the castle, and made our way in that direction. We were stopped before we could get very close, however, and when I tried to explain we just wanted to know what the place was, I got an explanation I couldn't really understand. It was the Kyōikutō ("Education Tower"), and there was something to do with school children, and for whatever reason we couldn't enter and he was sorry -- although there were plenty of Japanese people walking by without being bothered.

Shirai-san offered to take our photo in front of the gate. This is the only picture I have of myself on the trip.

Ōsaka Castle was nearby, and when we approached its main gate, we were promptly greeted by one of the volunteer guides, Shirai-san. He spoke very good if accented English, and offered his services free of charge. The first thing we did was ask him about the Education Tower. Apparently it was built as a monument to both teachers and students who had lost their lives in a 1934 typhoon, and as a prayer against another such disaster. Unfortunately, he didn't seem to know what event was going on.

He led us onward to our tour of the castle grounds, and we got a bit of a history lesson. The castle was originally conceived of by Oda Nobunaga, but he was killed before it could be built. His successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, eliminated his killers and had the castle built. The original grounds were four times the size of the current one, with not two but four moats.

The castle was later lost to Tokugawa, who had it rebuilt, but at its smaller size. In order to build its stone walls, he ordered the local feudal lords to have the stone brought, sometimes at great expense. The largest stones are 5.5 meters high and maybe twice that in length, and had to be brought from as far away as Kyūshū because there was no granite available locally at that size. There was some difficulty finding smaller stone as well, and some of those were made from gravestones. A number of the stones bear family crests or signatures of the lords pledging loyalty to Tokugawa. The whole effort served the added purpose of depleting their funds, weakening their power compared to Tokugawa's.

The main tower of the castle was lost to fire several times, and the most recent incarnation was built in the 1930s, partially from concrete. Because the castle was at that time controlled by the military, there was an agreement made that they would also be able to construct a military building on the grounds. Of the funds donated, 1/3 went into building the castle tower, and the rest went to a military barracks of German design. The latter hasn't been used since 2001, when the museum of history relocated.

One of the moats, where they grew crops during the war.

The incongruous German castle.

Shirai-san's tour ended once we reached the base of the main tower, and we thanked him and explored the grounds on our own for a while. At his suggestion, we tried takoyaki from one of the stands within the castle grounds; it's supposed to be one of Ōsaka's specialties (the other being okonomiyaki), though we had some difficulty eating the doughy balls with toothpicks.

The main castle building.

We took a break for a while at the hostel before wading back into Dōtonbori in search of a shop selling bowls we'd seen earlier. We invariably got lost along the way, but we did eventually find the place and purchased a few nice but inexpensive bowls. We dragged our tired feet back to a cheap restaurant across from the hostel where we had curry-rice, and then called it a day.

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2012-05-14 12:00 am
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May 14 : Dōtonbori

We woke at the early hour of 5:30 AM and couldn't get back to sleep. After about an hour, we ventured out of the hostel to locate some form of food. We eventually bought something from a Family Mart, though not the Family Mart within a block of the hostel, and returned to eat it. We set out again shortly afterwards, passing by suited salarymen and people on bicycles headed for work.

Katsu Very Bruce greeted us every day as we set out. It was somehow empowering.

The hostel manager had explained that if we went past the 0101 building, we would come to Dōtonbori, which is a well-known shopping district in Ōsaka. We wandered up that way, but wound up turning in the wrong direction, and for some time we must have just skirted the main streets of Dōtonbori. Part of the trouble was that it was 7 AM and nothing was open, but our getting lost and walking in circles wound up being the norm for our short stay on Ōsaka. We wandered the nearly empty streets for a good two hours before sitting down on a bench by the river to rest our feet and wait for things to open up.

The empty shopping arcade.

The Dōtonbori canal.

At 10 AM, we made our way over to the nearest street, where things had finally started to open up. There was noise and activity, and soon enough we stumbled on one of the true main streets. We walked down the length of it, and on finally reaching the end, we ate lunch at a restaurant advertising okonomiyaki on the next street over. We walked back up partly on the parallel street and partly on the main street, making a few purchases along the way--stationery, checkered socks, and the most amazing Engrish T-shirt.

The foot traffic starts to pick up.

Finally we decided to return to the hostel. This was a small adventure in itself; since we had arrived at Dōtonbori in such a roundabout way, we couldn't quite remember the way back. Several wrong turns, circles, and back-trackings later, we recovered our bearings and found the hostel, where we rested our feet a few hours.

We ventured back out around 6 PM, intending to visit the temple just next to our hostel, only to find it closed. Failing that, we decided to go obtain ice cream, stopping at a cafe which served parfaits and sundaes, in addition to more substantial food that we completely ignored. The host attempted to speak to us in English, which worked out okay until he led us to a table and said something neither of us could make out. He repeated it several times until I told him in Japanese that I didn't understand. He then remarked, "Oh, you speak Japanese," and promptly left us standing at the table while he walked off.

In confusion, we sat, which was apparently the correct action as he returned shortly with menus. Once we'd decided what we wanted, we discovered there was a button on the table to call a server over, which may have been what he was trying to explain to us. Katie had some kind of pudding parfait, while I had a sundae with green tea ice cream and red bean paste. It was listed as a "wafū" or "Japanese style" sundae, and also included a piece of waffle in it, which I can't help thinking was an intentional pun.

We successfully navigated our way back to the hostel this time. Tired from all our walking, I turned on the TV to just vegg out-- but after about half an hour, I realized Katie had fallen asleep and I was having trouble keeping my eyes open. It was only 7:30, but I turned off the TV and the lights and crawled into bed.

yinza: (Default)
2012-05-12 12:00 am
Entry tags:

May 12 - 13 : The Trip Over

It was for both Katie and I our second trip to Japan, but the first time we had been there as tourists, rather than students. Between that difference and the fact that I'd never planned a vacation before, there was something strange about it. As a gaijin, you are quite literally an outsider, but my studenthood had offered a small buffer from really feeling it. Still, the trip was largely a success and a much-needed break from work. I also felt that overall my Japanese hadn't gotten any worse; my conversation had suffered a bit, but I wasn't quite as illiterate.

We made the decision to spend most of our two weeks in Kyōto, since Katie had never been and I was more than happy to visit again. The nearest airport was outside of Ōsaka, so we booked a few days there as well.

All in all, the trip there went pretty smoothly, though I had this little bundle of anxiety that didn't leave me until we were safely at our hostel in Namba. Typically when I'm travelling with someone, I leave the details up to them, but this time I tacitly declared myself the leader. I'd had help and input planning everything, but I'd still made the reservations and communicated with the renters myself. I felt like it was my responsibility to make sure Katie and I arrived safely.

Our complimentary in-flight toiletries included a miniature toothbrush, towel, and one-size-fits-all slippers.

Our first flight to JFK was straightforward enough, and we had plenty of time to make it to our China Airlines flight. I was able to relax some once we were on the plane, since there was nothing I could really do until we landed a good 12 hours later.

China Airlines was my introduction to the latest in in-flight entertainment. The last time I took a long flight, we hadn't had personal TV screens, so it was a novelty, though I soon discovered that my headphone jack wasn't working. Katie and I had just devised a solution wherein we would twist her headphones inside out and sit awkwardly close as we watched the same movie--when they decided to reboot the entertainment system. Afterwards my sound worked, and we were each able to watch two full movies before they started having the real issues. The system was subsequently rebooted at least 30 times between then and the end of the flight, without successfully restoring the movie functionality.

We passed some time chatting about how these difficulties spoke of an alien abduction we couldn't remember (the reboot also reset the take-off point of the flight in the system, so for a while it showed that we had taken off from the middle of Alaska and been in the air for all of five minutes). The rest of the time I spent on my DS or listening to music curled up under a blanket.

Our flight got into Kansai International a little before 6 PM local time. The airport was surprisingly empty; most of the people on our flight were continuing on to Taipei, so they didn't disembark with us. We bumbled our way through customs and currency exchange, and even managed to locate the trains out of the airport, where at last we encountered one show-stopping impossibility: making a phone call.

At first, the only problem was my jetlagged brain thought coinage wasn't needed to initiate a call. Then when I got that right and dialed the number we have, it kept telling me to "correct my dialing." At a loss, I flagged down one of the attendants near the ticket counter and asked if he could help us. He explained that the number we had had too many digits, and took the printout I had to go look up our hostel on the internet. He returned with a different number, which he dialed for us, and someone picked up. I announced to the voice on the other end that we were just about to leave from the airport and he replied that he'd be waiting. Thinking this difficult task accomplished, I hung up the phone and thanked the attendant. We got on the train secure in our knowledge that we were almost done.

When we reached Namba station and met the hostel manager, he informed us that we in fact had never called.

It didn't create any problems, as he still met us there and led us to the hostel, but it was incredibly confusing. I have no idea who it was that I called and who confirmed that I had dialed the right place. My brain refused to shut up about this mystery for some time even after we got into our room, and I had trouble getting to sleep right away.

The unassuming entrance to our hostel.