Monday, April 23, 2007

April 2007

This is a catch up blog. A ton of stuff happened, and I had almost finished a massive 5 page entry compleate with philosophical insights, when I accidentally selected and deleted all of my work, and then Blogger was nice enough to autosave. So, lots of stuff happend, and it was all way cooler this this entry makes it seems. For starters:

I went to Disney Sea.
With Yuri's friends.
It was cool.
I had a fantastic time.
The next weekend we went to the "Insect Forest", which is an insect zoo.
It was great.
We had fun.
Both of us.
Then this week I went to a BBQ on Saturday...
Bought another pet...
And then had a picnic in the park on Sunday.

And all of it was great, and deserves an individual blog entry, but I'll just have to try my best to remember so I can tell everybody in person.

By the way, I am comming to California on the 16th of June, will be staying for 5 days and want to see as many of you, my friends as possible. If you read this, please contact me and let me know your schedule.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Kyoto, Kusatsu with Mom and Dad

This post is very late. But there is a good reason. It took me about three days to write it. So do enjoy.

So, I mentioned before that I was going to be going down to Kyoto to meet up with mom and dad. Well, I did. And here is the story. On the 28th of March, after staying over at Manabu's house again, I caught the very first train from Tokyo to Kyoto. Not the Shinkansen, mind you, but the slow train that stops at every station. To give you an example of how long it took, I boarded the train in Harajuku at 4:30am or so, and I got off the train in Kyoto at 1:30pm. Now why would anyone in their right mind choose to take a 15 hour trip over a 2.5 hour trip? Three reasons. 1) It saved me over $100. 2) The view was better. 3) It makes a good story. On the way I studied Japanese a lot, had some private time to think, slept, saw Sekigahara, Mount Fuji, fields of tea, and took the train though Seta station. Unfortunately, the train did not stop in Seta, so this is all I saw of it.
I arrived in Kyoto and walked to the Hotel. Upon discovering that mom and dad had not yet arrived, I bought a Bento and went to eat by the river. Great looking cherry blossoms...
Great looking Bento.
Here are mom and Dad after arriving.
More Kyoto cherry blossoms.
Our first day together consisted mostly of us trying to find a place to eat. We eventually walked all the way to Gion, and ate some mushrooms which mom raved about for the entire trip. Then we went home for an early bedtime, everyone exhausted from the travel.

The next day we rose early, walked to Kyoto Station and had a gigantic western style breakfast. It probably would have been a shock to my digestive system if not for the fact that I ordered green tea waffles.
We then caught the train to Himeji, which you may remember from my blog posts from late July 2005. Great castle, horrible zoo. Well, we only went to the castle this time.
After Himeji we went to Osaka to visit Osaka Castle. Unfortunately, dad's back had been hurting all day, so our stay in Osaka was cut a little short so that we could get back to Kyoto and the hotel in a hurry.
But not before stopping at Kaiten Sushi. We went to a place in Kyoto Station that actually was a horrible Kaiten Sushi place. At one point I ordered Sake, and they brought me this. There was also no selection. Still, since it was mom and dad's first experience with Kaiten Sushi, I think they had a good time.
The next day Ann had arranged for us to have a guide take us around Kyoto in a private car. The following are pictures of places that he took us. Gion...
Ginkaku-ji temple (famous for it's moss and rock gardens).
Our guide made me pose for this picture because this is the place where tourists always have their picture taken.
And this is a view that tourists also take pictures of.
And here is another thing that is photographed all the time.
But when I took a picture of the "very annoying mosses", he seem confused.
Basically, our guide was a serious man who didn't seem to have a whole lot of experience deviating from the standard tour. So after Ginkaku-ji, I asked him to take us somewhere where he rarely got to go but loved. Some place not on the bus tour. So he took us to this old house, which also had very well kept gardens.
Not to mention a little house for the Koi!
Then we drove for over an hour to get to a Soba restaurant and at green tea soba.
Then to this temple...
Which is the one on the 10 yen coin.
Here is a slight photographic accident.
This is the standard tourist shot at Inari Jinja, famous for over 1000 tori gates. It turns out that all the gates are donations from businesses praying for good luck. Note to self, if you become a god, be the god of finance or business.
There are so many gates that it is not really like being outside. More like being in a hallway. By the way, if you are going to be anywhere in an earthquake, this is probably the place to be.
Here are all the donations. Most are from the last 5 years, which means these get replaced all the time.
And that was our tour. Mom and dad enjoyed it, but in retrospect we might have been better off getting an enthusiastic driver who spoke Japanese and having me translate.

The next day we went to Nara.
Back to Todai-ji. Still amazing, though much more crowded this time.
With cherry blossoms that look like fire.
At the tourist information office, Dad asked if he could ride the deer. I have tried to explain to him many times that sarcasm doesn't exist in Japan. Maybe it finally hit home when the woman at the tourist information office replied, panicked looking: "No! You can't ride the deer! They are god's animals!" Rather than telling her that he was joking, I told her that he was drunk and that he wouldn't be riding any deer. This is as close as I got myself.
Now I have remarked about the beauty of Japanese gardens before (nothing compared to actual nature, but still neat because of the fact that they are so well kept.
I always imagined a haggard old man raking the leaves every day, contemplating the impermanence of the world as he picked out blades of grass one by one. This wrecked it for me.
Our lunch in Nara was Okonomiyaki, which is one of the Japanese foods that is very hard to find outside of Japan. We walked into a great little shop. Not crowded. Good food. A kind middle aged woman who was so thrilled that we were there and gladly explained every step in the process of making Okonomiyaki. And a female Korean student working her first part-time job in Japan who had trouble both speaking Japanese and making change, who blushed every time she did anything wrong, which was all the time.
Then we took a taxi to see the ancient tombs of Nara. Now these tombs consist of nothing more than keyhole shaped islands in man made lakes. Because Japan's imperial family is essentially a single dynasty, these tombs are the tombs of the ancestors of the modern Japanese emperor, and as such, have been off limits to humans for over 1500 years. Normal humans are not allowed to set foot on them, much less disturb them in any way. As a result, these tombs have reverted completely to their natural state. They act as a shelter for hundreds of cranes, storks and herons. These birds, since they have a refuge which humans have not touched, have flourished and now grace the surrounding area with their beautiful shapes. There should be places like this sprinkled though out the entire world, I think. Places set aside for nature to recover, where humans are not allowed to go, ever.
That night, mom and I arranged for Dad to have a massage to help his back. In the meantime, mom and I went to visit Kyomizu Tera...
And ate lots of Tofu, the food which Kyoto is famous for (which makes sense for a city inhabited by so many vegetarian monks).
Early the next day we went to Nijo-jo palace, ran through the gardens, tried to be the first in line to get in the buildings themselves, but failed, then sped to the front of the pack, all so that we could hear the squeeking of the Nightengale floors un-interupted.
We then checked out of the hotel, went to the station, bought Eki-ben and boarded the Shinkansen for Tokyo. Here is Dad's Bento. He ended up with the weird one.
The trip back was eventful. No sake for Dad's back, ice cream that was too hard to eat, and me losing my ticket only to be waved through by the guy at Takasaki station (because Gunma is great). But the highlight of my trip was when, on the train back to Shibukawa, we ran into two of my recently graduated sixth year students on the train. I told them that the people I was traveling with were my mother and father. They understood that part. Then dad started to speak. 'Oh no,' I thought 'He is going to ask them if he can ride the deer or some other stupid joke and they are not going to know what he said and they are going to get embarassed and feel like they haven't actually learned any English and give up before they have even started!' "Is Trenton a good teacher?" Dad asked. They looked at eachother, though for a second and said "Yes." And at that moment I couldn't wait to go back to work.

That night we had dinner with Kano-san and his family. His daughter just became a teacher in Shibukaw, too, so maybe I will be seeing more of her. I translated alot and got very tired. We kind of just dropped in unannounced on the Kano family, which was totally my fault and I appologized for about 6 times. Kano-san told me "It's no problem" 5 times, and the last time said, "Yeah you kind of screwed up, Trenton."
The next day Yuri, having just finnished her training period, became a full-time employ of her company, a fact which she celebrated by taking the day off and driving us to Kusatsu. Kusatsu is Gunma's most famous onsen,, maybe the most famous onsen in Japan. Here we are bathing our feet...
While we ate Oden (which I didn't tell mom and dad that I have never eaten before because it is the Japanese equivalent of the hot dog at 7 Eleven that has been in that heater for who knows how long).
This is Kusatsu...
Filled with minerals that make it a base strong enough to corrode copper...
And over 90 degrees celcius.
Also a cute little town.
Where we ate soba...
And onsen tamago (eggs).
One of the attractions of Kusatsu was the Reptile Garden, which aslo had monkeys...
And fish that eat the dead skin right off your body.
It was, in my oppnion not nearly as bad as some of the other Japanese Zoos I have seen. While some of the exibited animals looked really sad, and one was dead, most of the animals, especially the monkeys, looked like they had enough space and were satisfied. Still, this zoo is not a reccomendation. I didn't want to cry after seeing this zoo, but I sure wasn't impressed. They really need someone to donate about 2 million dollars for renovation.

We then went to the traditional bath stiring dance. The traditional way of lowering the temperature from over 90 degrees C to something that won't kill you without diluting the theriputic chemical mix of the water.
Then we, ourselves, went to an Onsen. Kusatsu does have great water, I have to say. Sparkling clean, we returned to Shibukawa and introduced my parents to Kappa Sushi.
And had them eat raw horse meat without telling them what it was.
By the way, raw horse meat is not a recomendation. It is flavorless.

The next morning I litterally threw mom and dad's bags on the train to Tokyo as it was pulling away, only to follow them several hours later when I found out that I was, in fact still on vacation even though no one had told me. And the rest, as they say, is history.