Whilst at a bus stop the other day we were warmly greeted by a woman who knew me and couldn’t believe she was seeing me. It took me a split second to recognize her as the woman I had helped on the computer in Tokyo! We stood staring at one another and then she shouted my name and we both squealed with excitement – – including her husband who reached out for me as I was hugging her! It was a loud and warm greeting as though we had known each other for years!! They introduced themselves to Susan and we chatted about what we were doing and where we were headed next. I had no idea they were going to be in Kyoto, nor did she know I was going to be so it was a huge random surprise! “Now the third time we see each other in Bangkok!” she said! Our bus was arriving and they were on their way to the next temple so we parted ways, hugging again and laughing at this random meeting. She turned around to yell goodbye and to wave some more and they were off as quickly as they had come. It was so much fun to see them! And I hope to see them in Thailand!
Due to the fact that I cannot upload my photos from my iPad and haven’t figured out another way to do it easily, I am unable to load photos in this blog until I return. I have uploaded some to Flickr and will link them to the blog so that will have to do for now.
Traveling with just my iPhone and my iPad (but no MacBook) sounded like such a great idea: lightweight, compact, easy to use and connect to. What could go wrong!? Well, by using the remote keyboard along with the iPad and then carrying both in my backpack caused the keyboard to continually push numbers in to the iPad making it think someone was trying to hack my info. So it closed down the whole kit and caboodle giving the message: iPad is deactivated, connect to iTunes. iTunes!? I only have iTunes on my MacBook so knew pretty much right away that I was sunk. Blogging is the main reason I wanted the iPad as I am able to check email and VM on the iPhone. But geez it put a crimp in my attitude and my blogging! And it took me awhile to come to terms that there is nothing I can do about the whole mess. But after a long day and then to find that out I was bummed. Now I am using the computer provided by the hotel with all of its Japanese-ness.
This morning on a walk I saw three people dressed in traditional Japanese garb bidding ado to a guy in a taxi. They bowed, then bowed deeper, then more deeply as the guest pulled away from the curb. They continued bowing and looking after him as he drove away and was out of sight – – which allowed me enough time to get up to them, take a photo without them knowing it, and interrupt their bowing time since they were on the side of the road, right where I was to walk. Interesting behavior and I’d like to learn more. Also, would like to know more about why the Japanese traditionally sit at little tables either on the floor or on little chairs? So much to learn…
I’m sorry to keep doing this to you but I have more toilet stories. Well, really just one. The ryokan we are staying in has the most ingenious toilet. Aside from the normal sprays and heated seat found on most toilets, this one has a sink on its tank with a little spicket. So when you flush (press forward for #1, backward for #2 to allow flushing capacity and water in the tank accordingly), the water comes out of the spicket on the top and flows down in to the tank! So you are able to wash your hands (no soap, cold water) in the water coming from the spicket whilst it fills your tank! A nice idea and touch, I think!
Ryokan are traditional Japanese lodgings. They are interesting wooden buildings with traditional tatmi-mat rooms and futons for bedding. Ryokan range from ultra-exclusive establishments to reasonable priced places with a homey atmosphere. Ours is expensive and homey, with the option for a breakfast in the morning and a dinner made in your room at night. We will most likely plan for a dinner in our room for one night as it is not inexpensive – – about US$85. But still, it’s the experience of it all makes it seem worthwhile and it will be Thanksgiving, so why not?
Upon arrival at our ryokan, Watazan Ryokan, near the ever elusive Starbuck’s that we have yet to see, we were greeted with a deep bow and an even deeper bow after we bowed back. We were told to select a stick from a container that had a certain color on the bottom of it. Mine was black and so I received a special gift of blotting paper. Susan’s was black and so she received a special gift of a writing pen, much to her excitement because she collects such pens from all over the world – – she has them from every hotel room she has stayed in on this journey and carries them with her. Considering how economically packed she is – – and how organized and pared-down – – it made me laugh when she pulled out fistfuls of pens from all over the world!
We were taken to our room on the 2nd floor by a Western-looking woman fluent in Japanese and dressed in kimono. It was an odd juxtaposition until you heard her speak Japanese! She showed us our ~800 square foot room (!) and described which slippers are worn for which situation: the green ones are to be worn around the hotel only but not in the room, the gray ones with the man/woman figures on them are for the water closet only (and ours is literally a closet). There are other slippers on a shelf for use in our room. She then asked if she could make us tea and describe the hotel to us. We sat at the small table on the floor and watched whilst she made tea! What a delightful room and situation with it’s shoji screens all around, mat flooring, and small table!
We enjoyed our tea and took a look around. Then made a plan for the rest of our evening while Susan “skated” around the room on the smooth mat floor! We decided to take a walk and see what’s around us and then grab a bite to eat. We are a few blocks from the night market, as luck would have it! It’s a wonderful place filled with people dressed-up for the evening, including men in traditional Japanesee gowns and women in traditional garb including the socks with thongs! It’s colorful and beautiful and full of good smells. I plan to go back tonight for more photos. We meandered around and took photos, looked at such things as octopus on a stick, bins of slippers made from beautiful silk, piles of fish, marzipan made from bean curd, etc. It was a lot of fun as I loves me a good night market!
Continually asking one another what we should do next, Susan asked where I was with hunger on a scale from 1-10. Maybe a 5, I said. She wasn’t that hungry either, so we continued to walk. And then suddenly, our hunger o’ meter shot up to 10 when we smelled the most delicious smell coming from a beautiful little door. Looking at the fake food display in the window and smelling the food-smells wafting toward us, we abandoned all other thoughts of doing anything else and slid open the shoji screen and stpped in. Stepped in to paradise! It was a tapenyaki place where the food is cooked on the hot grill on our table. And actually, after receiving a brief lesson about how to cook the food, are instructed to cook it ourselves. I ordered the pancake with shrimp and beef, Susan the vegetable w shrimp, oyster, cuddle fish, and squid. Yum to both! We immediately decided to share whatever we ordered and ordered ourselves each a big bottle of Kirin beer. Heaven, we thought, and snuggled in for a wonderful night cooking, posing for photos, and talking! It was a lot of fun and the food was delicious.
It was important, we learned, to make sure to cook and eat the food appropriately because other the soup-Nazi waiter would say, “No!” or ‘More! More!” when I was too frugal with the sauce (I’m not a sauce person but had no choice but to become one with her around!)
We reminisced about the Antarctic and some of the people we met there and generally re-lived how we met. Through Susan’s blogging I have learned a lot about her and have come to know her friends through Facebook and through comments made on her blog so it seems quite normal to discuss our lives with one anther even though we have never stepped foot into each others’ real lives or homes.
Not feeling the greatest and extremely tired, we headed back to the ryokan where we were greeted with our newly-made up beds on the floor! Tatami are futon mattresses on the ground with duvets on top. We were also given kimono dressing gowns so after the shower of my life (hot water, great pressure and yummy-smelling soaps) I donned the kimono and relaxed in my tatami for the night. Susan stayed up later working on her blog (I blog in the morning, she blogs at night) and then went to bed a bit later. Noticing her stirring in the night I found out that she has come down with an ear ache and is not feeling well at all – – she slept about 3 hours the entire night. So we are postponing our geisha dress-up date for this morning until tomorrow to allow her to sleep in.
I have taken a walk, talked to friends from home, and blogged this morning. It seems as though North Korea has attacked South Korea but I don’t know any details except there were a couple of deaths. Anxious to find out about that since I am only 2 hours’ flight away from Seoul…
Ohio means good morning. And I am in Kyoto, so good morning from Kyoto!
Yesterday we had hoped to go to the Tokyo fish market, the Tsukiji Fish Market. Turns out Tuesday was a national holiday so we scrapped that idea and had breakfast at the Hard Rock Cafe instead. It’s there that they serve the American breakfast: an egg, ham, hash browns, and toast (or rice), or a hotdog! Susan had the latter, I the former, with rice. And I am here to tell you the hash browns were the best I’ve ever had! Crispy and brown, just how I like them.
Then back we went to the hotel to gather our belongings to head back to the train station for our shinkansen ride to Kyoto. We had planned (and prepared for) the 11:03, the non-smoking train to Kyoto on the Hakari line. But after a snafu with our own realization of where on earth we were, we were made late by our frantic running around figuring things out. We were departing from Ueno, intended to get on the shinkansen. But one can only embark the shinkansen at Tokyo station – – not Ueno. But having asked the attendant which platform we were to stand on for shinkansen, we transposed that to the Ueno station and therefore were hugely confused. Finally realizing our error (at almost exactly the same time) we rushed to the correct gate to head to Tokyo. And all this with a huge pack on our back and a smaller but heavy pack on our front. And about 70 extra pounds because of the packs. But we pressed on.
Two Americans approached us and talked about how we were carrying our packs. Seems that one of the girls (from LA) is traveling around the world via ship and ther other friend (from Chicago) decided to meet her at her port of call in Japan. Not unlike Susan and I! We happily chatted for awhile and shared experiences and got some advice about Kyoto (it’s hard to navigate, we should get a bus pass, and we should visit the Golden Temple if we do nothing else) then parted ways. It was fun to run in to them and to talk a bit about home (the one from LA goes to Ohio State and mused that “they” had played “us” recently…).
Susan and I were off on a foot race to make it to our platform – – or what we thought was our platform. Turns out we were wrong. Our train had “departure” the guy told us and we must wait for the 11:33 (a smoking train) or the non-smoking one that left after noon. That gave us some time to get reserved seats on the new train and to have a few minutes to relax, take our packs off, and have a Royal Milk Tea – – or in this case, a Georgia Milk Coffee (they were out of milk tea). We continue to ooh and ahh over these warm coffee/teas in a bottle from a vending machine. Absolutely amazing and delicious!
We boarded our shinkansen with glee and immediately settled in comfortably for the 2+ hour ride to Kyoto, stopping in between at a few towns to gather more riders. We rode along the countryside often with the ocean on our left and some low mountains (Mt. Fujis all, we assume) on our right. Absolutely beautiful!
Our train station woes did not end when we left Tokyo. No, they continued to Kyoto. So we arrived in Kyoto and figured out where we had to go in order to make it to our ryokan in the city. But that train and its platform did not look like a JR platform so we worried we might not be able to use our JR passes. With no attendant at the post of our entry, we squeezed passed the closed gates – – this is probably never a good idea but what was done was done. Therefore, when we arrived at our stop and were faced with a decision to go to the exit to the left that was staffed w an attendant, according to the sign, or go to the right, where it was unstaffed, we chose (slyly) the one that was unstaffed. Again, we had to squeeze through the exit as it had no attendant. But when we got through and I realized that I had to climb a vast staircase in order to leave the station, I was like ‘no way!’ I was overly heavy-laden, exhausted, and couldn’t face so many stairs – – especially when Susan spotted an elevator! Of course I went toward it like a moth to a flame, ignoring all reason and logic. Seeing that the lift was only accessible through the other side, we found orselves suqueezing back through the unmanned gate again and severely pressing our luck. Coming back through was where things went wrong. Realizing we couldn’t use the elevator after all, we attempted to go back through the closed gate again. Oh no we didn’t! ‘NO’ yelled the loudspeaker. Yikes! We jumped back and looked all around: up, back, left, right as if wondering where this harsh yelling was coming from. Susan was halfway through and stood still for a few moments before just coming back through again. We were not on a JR line and had not bought a ticket and therefore had no right to exit the station. We were now in conflict with The Law. Deciding to just act stupid (not difficult for us after this day!) we proudly showed our JR pass at the next exit only to be halted again. The look on our faces was as innocent as we could muster as if we were really saying we’re-just-two-Western-girls-trying-to-make-our-way-through-a-strange-land. We finally understood that we had to pay 210Y each for the ride we had just taken. We coughed it up and headed on our way out of the train station – – and up a huge flight of stairs. My bad.
Out of the station we headed one direction hoping we were headed the right way. After seemingly going upstream for quite a ways on a busy street, I started feeling like we were going awry. I do have a strong sense of direction and when I rely on it, it generally steers me right. This time was no exception because it turns out we were heading the wrong way. So we trudged back to the station and turned a different way and proceeded again down a path unknown. Tiring quickly in energy and patience, I asked to stop and figure things out before proceeding. I’m all about taking walks and exploring but not with huge packs on my back whilst trying to reach a specific destination – – after an already long day of running around crazily. Plus, we are each armed with more electronics than NASA that we were not tapping into. We Google-mapped our location and found we were about 8 blocks away so continued our hike. I had originally wanted to hop in a taxi and let them figure it out but knowing we were now within reach of our destination and that we knew where we were going, I was willing to rally on.
We walked down quintessentially-Japan streets and I was in awe of the world we had stepped into! It was beautiful and quaint and bustling! We finally found our ryokan and got settled in our room. I will continue with the story in the next entry…
We shared a variety of stories together, Amy and Colin, Susan and me. It was fun to discuss stuff. A few of the stories stand out in my mind. One being the fact that there is a forest near Mt. Fuji (that’s all I know about the locale) where people go to take their own lives. Hikers are known to frequently stumble upon these people in various forms of dead-ness. !! I can’t even imagine. Apparently it was described on a documentary in the UK so I aim to find out more about that when I get home or have regular internet access. That’s just crazy!
Another story that stands out is the one where Amy describes how in the mid-80’s people were hurling themselves into oncoming trains at too-regular intervals so Japan investigated what could be done about it and came up with the idea that soothing sounds could be used as a deterrent. So now the sound of birds can be heard as well as soft tinkling music indicating the end of the escalator, the arrival of a train, and such. The sounds apparently add to the overall well-being of people and hopefully stop them from thoughts of hurling themselves into trains. Plus, they made a law that the families of the person that takes their life in that dramatic fashion be responsible for paying a debt to the city or country. So the shame of that is to act as a deterrent as well. We were surprised to see a JR employee at the edge of the track during rush hour yesterday holding a ladder or something. We wondered if that was to reach down and help someone who happened to step over? If so, then it would seem that this might be a rather frequent thing! Interesting.
On Monday it was overcast and thick. It never really rained but did want to, it seemed. Susan left me a note in the morning saying she was keen to rest in the morning rather than scurry off and do things. Happy about that myself, I went downstairs to blog and catch up on computer-ing. After lollygagging in the room a bit and making a game plan together we headed off to grab a bite next door. The most delicious restaurant with an outstanding atmosphere is literally right next door so we enjoyed a great meal of steamed dumplings, fried dumplings, greens w garlic (yum!), and a spicy fried rice w fish. I have photos of all the food and plan to load them when I am able to use my own computer.
Next on the list: to the mall (I say it like there’s only one; there are many). We went to a mall that had at least 5 stories and sold everything under the sun. Shopping, marketing, and status would appear to be the words of the day for Japan. And the stores are packed full of everything under the sun in dense numbers. Boots line the aisles one after the other. Backpacks pack the shelves. Furry purses and gorgeous things drew us in. But here I am with an already-too-packed backpack so there is no way I can make a purchase if if Iwanted to. It will be necessary to visit a post office in Kyoto in order to relieve myself of some things by sending them home – – including the computer bag I will no longer need now that I bought a proper backpack to carry my stuff around in.
During our shopping adventure Amy and Colin rang and asked us to meet them for a beer and a round of bowling (is it called a round? Or what?). We met them at the train station and found the bowling place. It’s on the 7th floor of a gaming building called Big Box. The place is filled with stuff like video games, those dancing things with lights that you have to coordinate your feet on (Colin does an excellent impersonation of these dancing machines!), indoor golf with a golf school and the like. The place was filled with teenagers and the fact that there was no beer served at the bowling lanes drove home the fact that this place was for kids. Deciding that we wanted to go get beer first, we told the girl behind the desk what our plan was. We could tell by her expression that she thought we meant we were going to go get beer and bring it back to the place. This was confirmed when she sent an English-speaking guy to tell us alcohol was prohibited.
All we wanted was to go somewhere for a beer and a rest first, then we’d come back to bowl. Recalling that there had been a guy in a sandwich board out front handing out advertisements for a certain place with cheap beer, we went out of Big Box to find him and figure out where to go. Not understanding his directions, he helped us understand that he would take us there. We followed him up to the place and were sat in a booth where we promptly ordered appetizers and beer. Turns out it’s one of these club card places, like Granite City or the like. We paid for a club card, then got the low-price beers, still a good deal. And the food was delicious. Skip the bowling! We were happy to drink beer, eat, and talk about various things including Japanese culture from Amy’s perspective whilst living here and teaching English. She has a lot of interesting observations about the culture here from her conversations with her students. It was interesting.
We made a plan to go to the fish market on Tuesday, set a time of 6:45 a.m. and a meeting place, then separated for the evening. Susan and I headed back to the hotel to organize my backpack and to pack up to be ready to depart for Kyoto tomorrow. Then headed over to our favorite restaurant where we enjoyed more dumplings, more greens, and a delicious pork dish than had us moaning in pleasure with every single bite. And I am not kidding. It was heavenly!!
A low-key but delightful day!
I bought a new backpack. It is black, zipper-y, sturdy, and comfortable. I paid $85 for the thing – – a bargain after looking at other ones that were upwards of $400. I noticed there was a little insignia on the thing but never took the time to read it until I returned home to the room. Here’s what it says (spellings and words are not mine):
Dear Costmer, this bag you chose is the thing built with the industry based on the plan with famous careful SOGAWA Inc.
Vending machines here are amazing. Lit up and beautiful, they beckon from afar and draw you to them with their colorful moving light displays: blue, red, then purple. But best of all, they serve hot and cold beverages in bottles. The Royal Milk Tea is hot and creamy and we ooh and aah every time we buy one for 130 yen (1.56US). Move over Starbucks.
…often am a bit embarrassed about my natural response and reactions to things. For instance, the Japanese word for ‘yes’ is ‘hi.’ So when the guy at the train station waved me through the queue with an enthusiastic ‘hi’ (merely affirming that I was good to go) and I responded happily with an equally enthusiastic, ‘hi’ (meaning hello to you, too!) I was suddenly embarrassed. He wasn’t saying hi to me at all…
People love their dogs in Japan, from what I can see. Little dogs. They tuck them under their arms and carry them like little accessories. There are a few larger breeds but by and large, the small dog wins their fancy here. Yesterday in Nikko I glanced in the direction of a guy pushing a baby carriage. He gave me a look that made me glance down at the carriage (it’s as though he was proud and wanted me to look at what he was doing, I think. Can’t pinpoint why I looked at them further) and I saw three little dogs dressed as babies in the carriage. (Laurel, take note. They weren’t primates but I am pretty sure you would’ve been tickled to see this!) !? Oh my lady gaga. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
Yesterday in Nikko I became briefly separated from my fellow travelers. Walking outside I looked for them forlornly: looking up there, down there, across the street, all to no avail. A kindly man stood up, got my attention from about 50′ away and pointed vigorously in a certain direction. Knowing instantly he was talking to me for some reason, I nodded, bowed slightly and smiled. Satisfied, he sat down and watched me walk toward them exactly where he said they were! I love these connections with strangers in a strange country!
On Sunday morning, my first morn in Japan, I meandered downstairs to breakfast of bread and jam and for a few minutes of internetting. We then made our way to the Uyeno station where we met up with Susan’s friend Colin and his girlfriend Amy. Colin is traveling in Asia on business and was able to meet up with Susan a week or so ago in Beijing. It was then that they realized we would all be in Tokyo at the same time. After a short cell phone call to pinpoint our locale at the train station we were able to meet up quickly. It helps that there are very few Westerners around so we rather stick out, but it is in general very easy to get around in this place. So far everything is well-laid out and understandable if you take the time to read the signs. We decided to take the slow train to Nikko partly for money’s sake. Susan and I already have unlimited rail passes through the whole of Japan so it didn’t matter at all to us but Colin and Amy had not purchased ahead. And since one cannot purchase a tourist pass in this country, they were relegated to purchasing as they go. The shinkansen (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinkansen) is the fast train, the bullet train. The mack daddy of trains. So although that train is already a part of our unlimited JR rail package, it was considered too expensive for Colin and Amy, thus our decision to take the slow train.
The trip to Nikko is about 3 hours by slow train. And it’s not the worst thing to do when you’re wanting time with friends and want to see the scenery of the beautiful autumn leaves along the way! And such beauty! Reds and oranges of the most deep and brilliant color amongst the green of the conifers. It rivals anything I’ve seen in the states, including out East. The train ride was most excellent as we had time to laugh, talk, and get to know one another. And it was great people-watching as well. Best of all, we are the only tourist-y types I have seen that are non-Japanese. One gets the feeling so far that we are experiencing real life, not a life set up for the sake of tourism.
As it became more mountainous my ongoing comment/question was: is that Mt. Fuji? It has become a sort of trademark for me to ask ridiculous questions and make crazy comments during my relationship w Susan, starting on our Antarctic voyage last year. So I am carrying on the tradition. “Unless there is a sign telling me this isn’t Mt. Fuji, I’m assuming it is,” I say! Now if we don’t make it to the actual mountain, I’ll be fine because of the many Mt. Fujis I saw on the way to Nikko. (Not to mention on the flight in when I saw the sun set right beside the mount! Spectacular to see the volcanic mountain looming above the clouds!)
Nikko is a small town known for its beautiful forest, World Heritage UNESCO sites, and ansen or hot springs, among other things. It reminds me of Ushuaia, Argentina, the jumping-off point for Antarctica. It also reminds me of a Swiss mountain town or Liechtenstein. It is quaint and adorable. Since it took us so long to arrive, we didn’t have much time as it was and unfortunately we were hungry so stopped at a great spot for noodles. “One hour is pl-en-ty to visit, Nikko!” Colin joked). As good as those noodles were, lunch slowed us up a bit for the rest of our time making it impossible to truly discover the shrines and sites. But it was still beautiful and a great getaway spot for our first 24 hours in Japan. We missed the hot springs, unfortunately, but hopefully will get the chance to visit some as unique as the ones in Nikko along the rest of our trip.
Since everything closed at 5 and it begins getting dark at 4:30, we made our way down through the town to find ourselves a pub so we could grab some beers before the journey home. We found a great spot (pictures to follow) and enjoyed our own company and beer (and stale nuts and some strange appetizers involving crunchiness wrapped around some kind of a bean curd) there for a few hours before heading down to the train station for Colin/Amy to buy tickets home. Much to Colin’s delight, the pair of them decided to splurge on tickets for the shinkansen on the way home. Whilst waiting in the train station for our own train, one of the other shinkansen barrelled by like a bullet and we were left in its wind wake shaking in our boots and squealing with excitement! What a rush! I can’t wait to get video of it next time and I can’t hardly stop thinking about it! Riding the thing you have no idea you’re going at the speed of light (really only about 200 mph), especially at night. Our train was nearly full with a seating arrangement and look of a jet airliner inside. I am excited to experience it in daylight and to see the scenery whir past!
There are signs all over the train ‘Nikko is Nippon’, meaning Nikko is old-Japan, I think, since Nippon is the term (generally an older term) meaning Japan. We had fun repeating this phrase over and over… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japan