Saturday, July 30, 2005
So, David, Nick, Oliva and anyone else who is interested, I have now seen the Full Metal Alchemist Movie. Since I had my UC Davis ID on me at the time, I paid only 1500 yen. By the way, I think I know why movies in Japan are so expensive. Not only is all media expensive in Japan to begin with, and not only are property values high, but movie theaters here do not seem to sell much food. And there you have it.
So first, for those of you who have never heard of Full Metal Alchemist, allow me to explain. Set in a world remarkably similar to World War I era Germany, the story follows the journey of two brothers as they seek to regain the bodies they once possessed. This is my favorite anime series of all time for several reasons: its narrative is elaborate but nearly flawless, it has impeccable timing of dramatic moments, the characters are all interesting, it discuses philosophy but does not preach, and the dramatic revelations are unexpected but make sense. Even after basically burning out on anime, I was able to watch Full Metal Alchemist from beginning to end a second time with David.
The movie was not what I had hoped for, but was not bad. I thought there were enough lose ends at the end of the series that they could have taken the entire movie tying up. Instead, the movie introduced many new characters, and had a plot line that involved some of the loose ends but did not continue the plot of the series. But I cant say I am disappointed with the way it was done. It's not as good as the series, but it is not bad. Just perhaps a bit more mediocre than I hoped for. There were only a few things that actually disappointed me. I don't want to spoil anything, so if you have any specific questions, leave a comment.
When I left the theater I tried to figure out what to do for the rest of the day. I though about walking somewhere, but after wondering where I should walk to for 10 minutes I concluded that I really didn't want to walk anywhere. I thought about going to Yokohama again, but I realized I didn't feel like sitting on a train. In fact, all I wanted to do was go back to the hotel and sleep. So I did. And I needed it. I napped for 5 hours and only woke up when I felt the building shaking because of an earthquake.
Tomorrow I hope to have more energy. I would like to go to Kamakura and play in the ocean, but I don't know what the Kanji for Kamakura looks like, so it might be hard for me to find on the map. I would also like to stop by and say "hi" to all of the people I know there, but not having a phone, it might be hard to get a hold of them. I don't know whether or not just dropping by is polite, but I don't want to be rude and go to Kamakura but not say "Hi". Hmm. Maybe I'll just bring some fruit and leave a card at the door if no one is home.
I just did the Kilograms to Pounds calculation and it doesn't look good. I think I know why I have no energy: I have lost 5 kilograms (~12 pounds) since the start of my trip, and I can't afford to gain that weight back at this point in time. I can only spend 6000 yen a day, and the hotel costs 4000.
Friday, July 29, 2005
So, before I begin, let me say that the capsule hotel that I am in now may suit my needs perfectly. It has several things which I desperately need: a place to store my luggage (which will save me 1200 yen a day), wireless internet access (which will save me 400 yen a day) and a suitable bath (which will make me not stink. I will pay 1000 yen more that the Riverview in Asakusa, and 200 more than the place last night, but considering how much I will save, I feel this is worth it. There are some catches though. It is called “Hotel Dandy”. The basement of the hotel is a strip club, the ground floor is a pachinko parlor, and the top floor (just above the bath) is where you can go to get “masaji” by young but unattractive women in relative privacy if you pay 60,000 yen extra. Basically, I feel like this place is kind of a front for prostitution. Finally, the guy in the capsule next door to mine is so drunk that he was not even able to pull his feet in before he passed out. But other than the fact that it is a little scary, this place is great!
Well, on to the story of my day. After submitting my last post I was more than a little depressed about the money situation. I tried calculating my expenses many times over, and while it looks like I will be able to make it home, I will have to draw money from my life savings in
We then decided to walk to Asakusa, and visited this shrine on the way.
You would probably never see a little boy playing baseball inside a church in the
Still working our way to Asakusa, we stopped at a shop for
Still working our way to Asakusa, we stopped at a shop for
After visiting the temple we began to walk around and found this shop which specializes in whale meat.
We went into a department store which had a huge Ultraman (a Japanese phenomenon that never caught on) store, and a huge studio Gibli section. This is me and Totoro.
So we walked some more had coffee again, and then I checked into my hotel. This, by the way, is Ueno at night.
Real fish head, an attention grabber, to be sure.
Sadly, Yuichi had to go home at , but by then his friend Fumi (who I know from
And that’s about it. Now that I seem to have internet again, all of this should be a lot easier. Well, take care!
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Actually, I am still doing fine on energy; I just have been away from home for a long time. Which reminds me, I realized something today. I am not really looking forward to eating huge American meals like many of the other people in my program were, I am just craving garlic. Garlic is a food that inevitably finds its way into my diet that is just unavailable in Japan. I had some “garlic bread” today, and was depressed to discover that it was just overcooked bread with butter on the top.
Anyway, on to the good stuff. So today I went to the World Expo in Aichi (near Nagoya). I took the subway to Ueno, JR to Tokyo, the Shinkansen down to Nagoya, then transferred to a local line to Aichi, then transferred again to a maglev train which took me to the gate, and 4 hours after leaving Asakusa I was there. And this is what I saw.
It immediately struck me as being ridiculously similar to Epcot Center, just in Japan and with kawaii (the Japanese version of cute) mascots. I paid 4600 yen for a one day ticket, which, combined with the fact that I had traveled 4 hours to get there, probably did not put me in the right mood. There was only one thing that I really, really wanted to see, and that was Toyota’s exhibit. According to all the reports I have read, Toyota is working on the technology to make walking transportation vehicles (mechs) a reality. I really wanted to see the prototype, but when I got to the Toyota Pavilion I saw that the line was gigantic, and that the next time tickets would go on sale was two hours away.
Since I couldn’t visit the one place I wanted to visit, I decided to visit the showrooms of all the places I don’t. By the way, the showroom for Saudi Arabia was scary. It made it seem like the only things that came out of Saudi Arabia were barrels of oil and fanatics with swords. While the others had handicraft sections and were trying to promote tourism, the Saudi Pavilion advertised the prosperity of Saudi Arabia, and had models of oil pumping technology. Not only that, there were no Saudis, just Japanese people wearing Saudi dress. The Yemeni Pavilion, by contrast, was awesome. It was a bunch of shops for Yemeni jewelry, being sold by people from Yemen.
And after visiting this pavilion I just want to visit more. *Sigh* Maybe in 50 years…
Lynn, if you are reading this you will be pleased to know that the Korea Pavilion was so popular with the Japanese that I could not even get in.
The Chinese had one of the best gimmicks for getting people into their Pavilion: beautiful women playing traditional music.
And India’s smelled the best thanks to the fact that the ceiling was covered in flowers.
Here is a shot of the main structures at the Expo. By the way, everybody else was positively dying of the heat. I can’t understand how the Japanese can tolerate such a scalding in the bath, but then whine like they are dying when the air is hot. It’s hot. Get over it. Try not wearing black shirts and high-heels when you know it is going to be 33 C. Try not using that spray that prevents you from sweating. And who cares if you mess your hair up, put on a damn hat. Sorry for that rant.
This is the American Pavilion, the only place that X-rayed your bags. Interestingly, no bottles of any kind were allowed into the Expo, probably because of fears of chemical weapons, but it seems the Japanese security was not worried about explosives.
Inside the American Pavilion was a presentation about Benjamin Franklin. The statue was the highlight of the presentation for me. Everything else was a speech promoting diversity and freedom delivered in Japanese.
But I did like how the thing that the American Pavilion chose to emphasize the most was the exploits of NASA and JPL.
The Mexican Pavilion was the best architecturally. It did not feel crowded and felt elegant. Made me want to visit Mexico.
These are the mascots for the Expo.
And this is the mascot for Japan. Actually, JR is working on a levitating train that will travel with electromagnetic propulsion. This was another thing I really wanted to see, so I waited to get in for half an hour. In the mean time, the tickets for the Toyota Pavilion went on sale again. The train show was alright. They had a tiny model of a working system.
By the time I got out all the tickets for the Toyota Pavilion for the entire day were sold out. Depressed, I decided to go home, relatively satisfied with my day.
Part of the reason I decided to go home then was the crowd was getting much thicker.
This is a pretty picture I think.
Before I left I decided just to take a look in the gift shop. It was bedlam. I am used to crowding in Japan. On the trains you are sometimes chest to back with other people, and it is not really a problem because if you push a little eventually you will get through. But this gift shop was just as crowded, just with children half my size. I didn’t want to push because I was afraid of crushing one of them. At the same time, old grandmothers were pushing me from behind. It was stressful, to say the least.
This is the working model of an electromagnetic propulsion train. I took this picture for you, Dad, because I knew if you were there you would have been interested in it.
So I went back to Nagoya and hung around for a while. This is Nagoya.
Saw my 20th underground shopping mall. Yes, I have been keeping count.
And I tried Okonomiyaki. A nice woman who spoke English helped me take this picture.
So then I went back to Ueno and checked into a different capsule hotel. I was very excited that this one had a bath, so I immediately went to the bath and had the attendant tell me the procedure. I was to strip down in the locker room, leave my stuff on top of the locker and head to the bath. Then he left. I was just in the middle of taking my boxers off when a woman wandered in to the locker room and started talking to me. Naturally I stopped taking off my pants. Then I just stood there. We both seemed to be waiting for something. I asked if the sauna was included in the hotel fee, and she told me to wait a moment while she got the guy I just talked to. He explained everything to me a second time, and actually remarked with a smile “you don’t speak Japanese do you”. “Not so, Pal,” I thought, “I just don’t like to drop my pants when middle aged women are staring at me”. *Sigh*
Today I plan to meet up with Yuichi.
Post Script: I have only 700 dollars left in my bank account, so I'm going to be a little poor for the rest of the summer, but I might actually make it home!
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
So the next day we went to Kinkakuji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. Now, this temple is famous for two reasons. First it is said to be very beautiful, and second, Yukio Mishima wrote a novel about a mad man who burns down the temple. The temple actually was burned down shortly after WWII, but recently it has been rebuilt.
Now there is something that I realized that I do not like about Japan that the Golden Temple also demonstrates. Japan doesn’t have as much old stuff as it should. Now allow me to explain. Sure, Japan has a lot of old stuff, much more than the US. But there are also many things that have been destroyed that were rebuilt. Osaka castle, Kinkakuji and Ueno Castle are some examples of this. To be sure, the will to rebuild after a disaster is admirable, but there was something that left me un-settled about the things that were rebuilt. Osaka Castle was the worst offender. It wasn’t even a castle anymore, but a pristine museum. It felt like a hotel. Now, the reason I go to historical places is to get a feel for what it was like to live in the past so that I can understand the people that lived before me a little better. But if I go into a castle and find 5 star luxury and 3 stories of romanticizing the Samurai, I do not get any of the feel I am looking for. Kinkakuji had a similar problem. Before it was burned down it was beautiful, but it was not spotless. In its rebuilt form it is perfect and unblemished. The result is that it looks like plastic.
The constant reconstruction of buildings in Japan has one further problem. There is only one building in all of Japan that would even suggest to you that any wars ever took place, and that is the Bomb Dome in Hiroshima. No buildings riddled with bullets like Berlin had to remind itself of World War II, no destroyed structure of any kind has been preserved. Sometimes, like in the case of Ueno Castle, the reconstruction is done well, but most of the time the result is that it seems that the past was far more perfect than today. I don’t enjoy this romantic feeling. And furthermore, how do you expect to remember not to go to war again if there are no reminders of that war. I could go on a massive World War II rant, criticizing both the US and Japan for how the treat the subject of wartime history, but you probably just want to see pictures at the moment.
This was the coolest part of the Temple of the Golden Pavilion: the Koi that expected us to feed them so much that they were jumping out of the water.
Despite the fact that the temple looked fake, was ugly and crowded with tourists, the gardens were pretty. The other redeeming factor of the temple was (and I’m serious here) the entrance ticket could also be used as an amulet against the undead.
Here is some more indecipherable English, found at the huge section of the temple dedicated to fortune telling.
So after the temple we (our huge group) took the bus to Kyoto station. Professor Chang bought our tickets, and we all split into groups. The group I went with decided to try and surprise one of our Japanese friends, Wakaba, at here work place. 12 of us showed up at the green tea ice cream restaurant were she works. As it turned out, she was not at work that day. Still, we shared some very expensive ice cream. This is Mary restraining me.
Despite this picture, the ice cream was tasty, although I can’t say it was worth the price we paid. I don’t particularly like Green Tea ice cream. Oh, and before someone once again tries to tell me that the reason that I don’t like it is because I’m not “Asian” (by which they mean a Cantonese speaking Chinese American), I also don’t like coffee, cookies and cream, or chocolate ice cream. I’ll restrain myself from another rant.
So after ice cream we went back to Seta. Cindy wanted to give the tutors something, and we decided to sing for them. First she sang “Goodnight My Baby” with me as back up, that I sang “E Hawaii”. Most people spent the night working on their papers, but I, having finished mine, slept.
The next day almost everyone but me was in a rotten mood. I set off for school early, printed out my paper and snapped a picture of this turtle in a pond.
My final went OK. I could not write well that day, but I did the best I could. After the final Mary, Kari and I went to the Supa-Sento (the public bath) once again. I am really going to miss the public bath when I go back to the US. It is so relaxing and comfortable. Here is a picture of the outside.
Well, after the bath we went back to campus and were treated to a massive feast by the University. There was way too much food. Not having had enough food to make me full since all-you-can-eat sushi, I ate and ate and ate. Then I felt sick.
We all did our best to thank each other. Here is Professor Chang receiving a card that we made for him.
So then, that night everybody else got hammered (I have only had more than a sip of alcohol on one occasion on this trip). The last night we were all there was probably the only night when anything alcohol related that was dangerous happened. However, since I was feeling sick, I went to bed before everyone else once again and was not witness to any of this.
The next day was the day when most people left the dorm. Having run out of soap, and needing to get rid of my shaving cream as it would not fit in my bags, I decided to use shaving cream as soap. Don’t do this. Shaving cream with after shave feels like icy hot when it touches certain areas of your body. Sadly, one of the tutors was witness to my impassioned cussing and cries of pain, and by the time I got out of the shower every single person in the dorm was laughing at me and wondering if I was OK. Anyway, at 11 am Mary, Eric and I shared a taxi to the train station and wished everyone goodbye.
So, Mary had decided to be my travel buddy for a time, a decision that she probably soon came to regret. I had wanted to go to Himeji, and when I asked her if she wanted to come along, she agreed. Our plan was to go to Himeji after the program, spend the day, find a place to stay, return to Seta to pick up our luggage and head on to Tokyo. For the next several days we traveled around together. She got to have a person with her who spoke enough Japanese to get into trouble, and I was able to keep from becoming lonely, which is the worst part of traveling alone in Japan.
Anyway, getting to Himeji was no problem. It is a strait shot from Seta, though we actually made a stop in Kyoto to activate my Japan Rail pass. We left the station, walked for 15 minutes, and sure enough, we were at the castle.
Himeji, I must say, was very impressive. It was much larger than any of the other Japanese castles I have seen, and was similar in size to the larger European ones. What was the most amazing to me was the fact that the entire castle was designed for and stocked with firearms, which were supposedly prohibited in Edo period Japan, but apparently not to people who had castles. In the basement of the castle were racks for maybe 800 firearms and the powder required to fire them. When I saw how much powder had been stored in Himeji Castle, I became amazed that the thing didn’t meet the same fate as the Acropolis.
This is Himeji Town. According to the informational placards, Himeji city actually had a moat and embankment at one time. Neither of these was really that amazing. Still, you wonder what could have been so important about Himeji that they would do so much to protect it during a time of peace.
And this is me with the castle. I find one of the great advantages of traveling with another person is that you have someone to take pictures for you. Himeji is called “The White Heron” because it looks like a heron in flight. Sure, whatever.
Himeji was probably one of the best things I have seen in Japan, and what I saw next was probably the worst. After leaving the castle we decided to go to Himeji Zoo. Well, first I bought and immediately dropped some ice cream that I bought, so that kind of put me in a sour mood. But the sour mood didn’t last long, because once I went into the Zoo my mood changed to extreme sadness. Everything about the Zoo was horrible. The animals all looked like they had become sick, been driven insane, or just looked sad. We saw a polar bear with no water in his tank in 90 degree heat that was pacing around his 3 meter square cage like a solitary confinement inmate. The camels had mange. Everything smelled like feces. The ducks had been fed lettuce from the store. Every animal was in a cage, even the peacock, which is basically just a fancy chicken that you can allow to wander. I was also very angry. How can Japan claim to be an environmentally conscious country if the animals in the Zoo are cared for so badly?! By the way, I love elephants, and this is the cage the elephant was in. It was trying to use its own food to swat away the flies because it had not been provided with any mud.
Very sad, Mary and I left the Zoo. In fact, we were so disgusted that we did not even want to stay in Himeji. We boarded a train for Kobe. Upon arriving at Kobe station we began to look for a Tourist information desk to see if they could help us locate a hotel. After an hour and a half of walking (and several false leads) I asked and discovered that Kobe station does not have a Tourist Information desk, but Shin-Kobe station does. So all our walking was for nothing. Well, at least we saw downtown Kobe.
We boarded a subway train, had a fiasco with tickets, and arrived at Shin-Kobe station at 6:30… only to discover that it closed at 6 pm. And that’s when I started to be a little worried…
Well, here is the fun part of the story. So, we left Shin-Kobe station and began to walk looking for a hotel. I saw one and we approached it. “Hotel Emperor” I thought, “that is a strange name for a hotel”. What was even stranger was that you paid by the hour. By the time I had walked into the lobby I had concluded that, in fact, this was a Love Hotel (which is a hotel used by couples who want a little privacy, or if you are paying your date that evening). Well, one love hotel wouldn’t have been bad, but it seemed everything that I thought was a regular hotel turned out to be one. I imagine Mary was getting a little worried if she could trust me by this point, not to mention worried since we were kind of in a shady part of town with no hotel room. After asking where to find a cheap hotel at the local Holiday Inn (which was WAY too expensive) we finally found a place. I checked in, we went up to the room and discovered this.
The room was the size of an American bathroom. Let us just say Mary and I had to overcome our awkwardness with the situation in a hurry. Anyway, we then went to dinner, where I experienced my greatest failure of Japanese ever. We went to a restaurant wanting Kobe beef, but when I ordered they would not bring my food. I tried ordering horse and they wouldn’t bring it even though it was on the menu. I tried to communicate for 15 minutes. Every single person who worked in the restaurant came up to me to try to take my order. Finally, after 15 minutes and the entire place having come to a standstill, I finally decided to give up. I apologized, bowed and left. My face was so red that one of the little children in the restaurant began to laugh at me. We went to another restaurant and I ordered a huge beer and food…by pointing at it.
The next day Mary and I returned to Seta. We wished everyone goodbye one final time and said our goodbyes to Seta. This is me in Seta station for the last time in a while for sure.
The next day we got up at 9 am, went to Akihabara, and then got on a train to Shibuya. On the subway my north and south got confused, and it was near noon, so I managed to get us really, really lost. After correcting this and eating at a katsudon place, we witnessed a square watermelon in Shibuya.
We then walked to Meiji Shrine, and on the way visited Condomania.
Here is Meji Shrine. If it seems like I am breezing over this, it is because every where we went on that day I had already been to. It’s not that interesting for me to tell.
This was cool though. On the way to Harajuku we saw what looked like the Japanese equivalent of a Chinese lion dance.
We walked to Harajuku, and tried to get to Shinjuku, but gave up and decided to go to Azabu-Juban instead. We walked through Azabu-Juban and went to Roppongi Hills, where I discovered that I have been very fashionable this entire trip.
We this walked through Roppongi crossing, and went to Tokyo Tower. Tokyo Tower was expensive, but since we got there at sunset, the view was worth it.
And when night fell the view was still great.
We walked to Daimon, and on the way paused at this temple.
From Daimon we took the subway back to Asakusa and visited Kaminarimon.
And the temple behind it.
The pictures were very good that night. At the time I thought to myself “well those are weird clouds”. We returned to the hotel, turned on the news and discovered a typhoon was about to hit.
The next day it rained. At times it rained a lot, and other times it rained less. Mary bought what I believe was her 7th umbrella of the trip, which is a long story. Here is my breakfast at Mister Donuts, with rain in the background.
We decided to visit central Tokyo on this day, so we took a train to Tokyo Station.
Then we walked to the Imperial Palace. This is not the Imperial Palace, but is taken from the Imperial Palace.
We decided to walk around the palace and saw the Diet Building…
And the prime minister’s residence. By the way, I was amazed by the lack of security. Literally men with sticks. But then I saw the lines of blue buses that were idling at strategic points. Probably filled with men with submachine guns.
So, the palace gardens were actually open that day. This is what remains of the keep of Edo castle, supposedly once the tallest ever built.
We left the park, took the train to Ueno station. I then got lost again, but eventually we ended up in Ueno Park. Ueno Park is full of homeless people, which is both sad and very interesting. The homeless in Japan are very organized and tidy. Every tarp house looks very livable, and there is no feces, urine or trash anywhere to be found around the area. On the other hand, they look even more depressed than American homeless people. We got through the park, reached Tokyo University and were disappointed by how unwelcoming looking the campus was.
The entire campus was surrounded by a wall, except the gates. Felt a lot like a prison, or a castle. Neither are structures I associate with higher learning… well, normally.
Lastly, on our way home we ate again at Ueno station, where I bought this bread because it looked exactly like a butt.
The typhoon ended up being very weak, but our socks were soaked.
So today the plan is to go to the World Expo in Nagoya. I have no tickets. Wish me luck!
The next day we checked Mary out of the hotel, and I helped her take her bags to the airport. I then returned to Asakusa and checked into the Asakusa Riverview Capsule Hotel. I am was not satisfied with this hotel for several reasons: the bath sucks, the showers are not hot, you only get one towel, the lockers are too small for my bags, and (since it appeared in Lonely Planet) it is full of foreigners. I also had one very unpleasant experience there. While taking a bath, a fat Japanese man came in, saw me in the bath and remarked to his friend “it’s not an Onsen”, at which point he proceeded to get in the bath without scrubbing first. I found this to be repulsive and left immediately. What a jerk. I won’t be staying there again. There were only two things good about the hotel. These were the price (3000 yen, less than 30 bucks) and the view. Probably the best view of the Sumida River around.
And this final shot is for you, Nick. I know, you hate me.