Monday, September 08, 2008
Emails from Japan (with all typos intact)
We made it! Delayed flight leaving Vancouver, but the smoothest flight I've ever experienced (aside from the stews pretty much demanding that everyone close their window shades for a prescribed nap-time in the middle of the afternoon! How was I supposed to knit?!)... Tokyo airport was a minor adventure, but no mishaps, and no major time frame for us to stress about, so everything just flowed fairly nicely. Got our train into the city, an hour on an express train that took us past rice paddies, housing lots that could be in Richmond, lots and lots of tech-business places, a few giant malls (the one logo I recognized was the TOys R Us giraffe), and then into the main Tokyko train station.. where a nice man saw us struggling to decipher the map and pointed us to the correct platform.. where we then jumped on the first train before actually figuring out if it was ours, but it was.... got completely lost while looking for the hotel, but eventually fired up the laptop for the map, got our bearings, went back into the underground train tunnels, and got here. (interesting note: the homeless folks here build cardboard tunnel/shacks for themselves in the train hallways, and don't seem to get kicked out)
Hostel room is tiny (Chris can touch both walls at the same time) but has the comfiest memory-foam matteress I've been on (okay, we took the bunk bed mattresses and combined them for a double-thick).. and I need an instruction manual for the toilet. Really.
Off for a quick shower (rainy and warm, but still need to shower off a day of travel) then we'll go in search of food before crashing for the night!
Subject: First full day in Tokyo
Date: Mon, 25 Aug 2008 13:24:47 +0000
Cafe down the street that we had passed last night served danish and bagelwiches and mango juice, numm... then we started wandering towards the tech-geek-central part of Tokyo, only to pass right through the BEAD part of Tokyo! Seriously, at least two blocks, looks at least two streets wide, EVERY SINGLE TINY SHOP sold beads. I'm looking forward to going back tomorrow :)
Tech central featured a 7-story department store - the noise level reminded me of going to a midway carnival, but instead of hawking rides, they were hawking the latest washing machine, massage chair, or laptop... nothing turned my crank, but their toilets DID have english translations, so I know know that the buttons include 'spray', 'bidet' (not sure how that is different), and 'music' - yup, you can't hear me flushing, but you can listen to this song.... wierd. Chris avoided temptation so far, though model train stuff keeps catching his eye...
Next stop: a park that appeared to be right beside a train station, but turned out to be fenced in, and we walked the wrong direction around the whole block to get to its gate. 150 yen ($1.50ish CAD) each got us into what WOULD have been a quiet sanctuary, but the cicadas (we think) were crazy loud - kinda like the store we were at before) and it took a while to drown it out. This was the manicured sort of garden, paths and bridges and koi and turtles that seemed to want to go for my fingers rather than the grass I was offering... but lovely. Oh, pouring rain, but still lovely.
Then, to the Tokyo station - central downtown. We wandered in a call-it-lost-but-we-aren't-trying-to-get-anywhere sorta way for a good chunk of time, and then my feet voted for another longer train ride, and we headed east to try to hunt down the yarn shop I've been saving for... 30min on an express train later, we hit Kichijojii and the 8-floors of craft shop gloriousness that is Yagakuza (or something) .. EVERYTHING. leather, glass, fabric, yarn, model making, screen printing, painting, EVERYTHING. All the specialty stores you could ever want, in one place. Gah! I got out alive.. but might ask to go back tomorrow.... finally made it out of there, and discovered a giant plaza/covered walkway/open shops kinda mall... clothes, food, music, whatever.. and in every direction you can see, at every intersection, for another few blocks. Kinda like Metrotown, but... different.
Yarn shop was crazy-small... just a bit bigger than my childhood bedroom, loaded to the ceiling (including rafters) with lcones of glorious yarn labeled only in Japanese, but after a short attempt of drawing a sheep and asking the sales woman to write the kanjii for wool so I could read the tags (I had my picture of a silkworm prepped, cotton in my head...)... she handed me a printout with a translation of all the fibres, and did a reasonable job of leaving me to it. I managed to only spend about half of my splurge money, and have some really neat stuff: super=fine boucle mohairs and fine wool to match and be held together for sweater-y things... wool-and-stainless-steel and paper yarns (this paper is linen, with little bowtie tufts every cm or so) to make interesting, moldable scarves... some cotton yarn that has been laid flat and glued to look like strips of bark, for a hat... and some other things that are falling out of my brain right now! Ooh, and a book that people online have been raving about, by the lead designer of the store. Very clean, modern Japanese style garments and accessories.. should be interesting!
More wandering.. perhaps TOO much wandering at this point, as my feet are swollen over the sides of my birkis, but we hit a grocery store to get some in-room nibblies, and head back the long way through some residential alleys (with curious blinking red lights set into the ground right in the centre of the intersections) back to the train, and then manage to find the right exit for our hostel on the second try. We've got two more nights to get it right, and then Chris will happily trade this place in for somewhere that ISN'T a single-bunk setup. Poor diddums!
Heh... so, 1022pm, my feet are up on a pile of blankies (just 'cause it has been pouring rain most of the day doesn't mean it is cool), and we'll be watching one of Kyle's movies to finish off the night... Chris is in charge of tomorrow's itenerary, though I'm planning to spend some time heading through Bead Row, and hopefully finding some fine craftwork rather than just mass-market stuff to see.
Love y'all :)
More tomorrow, I'm sure...
Subject: Tuesday in Tokyo
Date: Tue, 26 Aug 2008 22:14:04 +0000
We had a lazy start and didn't get out of the hostel til after Noon.... headed into Tokyo station, and went looking for the Tokyo International Forum - so far, this has been our quickest seek-and-find location so far! This is a beautiful complex, with the feature building having a foot-ball shaped footprint, and being many stories high with an open atrium to see the steel-and-glass structure - way cool! As we walked towards it, thinking hungry thoughts of lunch, we could hear music.. I thought it was a guitar player playing with a recording of a fiddle, bass, and other instruments, but as we got closer I realized he was doing everything himself! Super-tall, prob around 6'6, and long thin fingers (made me think of elves) that were suited for his playing style - thumb wrapped around the fingerboard to play bass notes while his fingers did melody and harmony, along with some very dramatic plucking and pulling of all the strings for various effects. Bought a CD after listening to one song 'cause I was too hungry to hear more, but the CD is awesome!
Tasty lunch in a french cafe - I failed to take enough care to check what I was ordering, and wound up with seafood pasta.. I'm not really into eating baby octopii, or prawns with all their legs still attached, but working around that it was tasty enough. Served with a yummy soup in a delicate teacup, fresh spongy bread, and then a tasty cheesecake, it was a delight! We ate pretty non-regional today, actually, hitting a Wolfgang Puck Express for dinner, which served Earls-like food.. today will be better, as the traditional hotel we're heading to will be featuring all local specialties in the set dinner.
Next stop: Harajuku! If you've ever seen pictures of Japanese kids dressed in crazy costumes (Gothic Lolita is one name for them), then this is the place... tiny street jammed with trendy/cheap shops on both sides, packed with 16-20somethings (and us).... was crazy fun! Crepes-to-go seem to be the food of choice here, there was a stall every 10 shops or so... We managed to leave our umbrella in one of the stores, but made the (poor) decision not to go back for it.
I knew that there was a button/trim/ribbon shop somewhere within walking distance, and had a vague idea of where the roads would be, so we walked... and walked... and walked... and it was POURING, so we were pretty soaked. Found a train station that was NOT what I expected, so stopped for a map check, reoriented ourselves, hopped on a metro subway to get closer to one reference point I knew of, and then set off again with vague hopes of finding this shop... STILL pouring rain, we're getting drenched (though still warm and of relatively good cheer), when I spot a shop selling vintage kimono and fabrics, oo! I step inside, then go back outside to brush the excess water off my arms so I don't drip... a couple minutes later, I'm dry enough to poke through the fabrics, and found a very pretty length of narrow fabric... as we wrapped up the transaction (hooray for patient Japanese salespeople!), they asked if we had umbrellas... then promptly offerred us two! Profuse thanks, of course, and then I grabbed my sketchbook and drew a button and roll of ribbon... they were watching over my shoulder, and one of them quickly got what I was trying to ask, and a few seconds later the other woman was escorting us out the door, and walked us three blocks (through twisty street-alley things) to the shop! Super-cool.. her English was about as good as my French (high school level, 20 years later), so we chatted a bit on our way, and when she dropped us off at the shop, and I turned to look at it, my eyes got wide and my jaw dropped!
La Drogurie carries everything you could possibly want in the way of elegant and fanciful trims. Ribbons (the most expensive one I spotted was $70 a meter), cords, buttons, beads, feathers, velvet cut flowers and butterflies, felt by the roll for making bags and slippers that you'd then embellish with stuff... it was awesome! Beautiful shop, too, but they wouldn't let us take photos :( Think of what your gramma's jewelry box would look like, if she were a drag queen who fancied Marie Antionnette! I picked up a few things, ribbons to go on a bag (one has fish, the other has 'X's), velvet flowers to go on hats, a few buttons... I didn't buy any of their yarns as they were fairly standard things, and pretty overpriced.. all on cones or skeins, nothing name-brand, but nothing that needed to jump in my bag.
We were feeling pretty dry by the time I was done, and now had umbrellass, so we went wandering.. it was dark by now, and Chris had an idea to go back to the crazy Harajuku area to see what it was like in the evenings, and I put him in charge of navigating... If Harajuku was Robson Street, and the trim shop was on Denman, we wound up on West 4th ave! Eventualyl figured this out, hopped back on a train, and got back to Harajuku for dinner at Wolfgang Puck, then wandered back into the much-less crowded streets... the shops were all closing up, and it was still pouring, so there wasn't so much to see in the main strip, so we headed off into side routes.. found some neat architecture - I'm not sure if they have zoning between commercial and residential, but it sure doesn't seem like it - and some dead ends and something that may or may not have been a shrine and may or may not have had a closed sign in front of the entrance.. but we didn't hurt anything, so that was okay!
Got home, vaguely started packing up so we'd be ready to check out in the morning (now today) to catch our shinkasen (high speed bullet train) to Sendai, on our way to the ryokan (traditional hotel) and onsen (hot springs!!! woo!!!!)... I think the timing will be perfect, lots of sitting and then hot tubs for our legs.. tasty food, napping, and all sorts of other relaxation goodness. We'll check into the hotel around 3, spend the day there going back and forth from our room to the outdoor springs, and then check out in the morning and go exploring through Sendai. We're planning to leave most of our luggage in lockers at the Tokyo Station... it sounds safe enough, and we won't have to haul major suitcases and backpacks around Sendai.
7:15am - I'm still waking up early, but since Chris crashed last night just asfter 10, and he appears to be awake, I may not go back to sleep... there's an early -morning fish auction somewhere that is supposed to be quite a spectacle!
Subject: Wednesday in and around Sendai, Thursday all over the place...
Date: Thu, 28 Aug 2008 16:38:47 +0000
Got into Sendai, hit the Info Centre to get a map and figure out the train to the Iwamatsu Ryokan/Onsen (traditional hotel with hot springs), and the lovely woman helping us called the ryokan to confirm when we would be arriving at the train station, and when the next shuttle would pick us up... a bit of nerves through the train ride, 'cause we didn't have a map listing the stations and weren't sure if we were going the right way, or would miss the stop, but a fellow passenger was able to confirm that Sakunami Station was indeed this direction... so, we hopped off at the right place, followed the line of people, and spotted a man holding up a sign with Chris' name on it, wooo! We made it! Piled into the shuttle van, where a woman in traditional attire handed us moist faceclothes to freshen up during the drive. Check in was smooth, they had all the info our helpful friend had setup via email for us, and then the fumbling started:
We were shown our room by a porter... stepped in, and there is a small space inside the door, and then a raised area. I knew that we were supposed to remove our shoes and put on slippers, so I started poking in the shoe cupboard, only to be informed (in alarmed sign language) that this was HIS job, and he'd take care of us. Okay, cool! Got into the room, and it was HUGE... (and somewhat confusing, more later)... he left, and a few moments later there was a knock on the door and our server came in. Totally wonderful, with a tiny bit of english and a lot of patience, she gestured that we should sit down, and began to prepare tea for us... being waited on was a new experience (hush, Mom...), but neat! She checked that we had read and understood the two sheets of rules and policies in English, and then when I started asking questions, things got tangled. Apparently, I don't like the unknown, so I was trying to find out WHERE the onsen was, WHERE this other place we were supposed to scrub first was, if there would be baskets or hooks or something for our robes (which she had gone out to get larger sizes than the Japanese sizes that were folded in the closet waiting for us)... and she didn't understand, and I didn't understand, and we were both trying really hard to get somewhere... which was when Chris stepped in and told me to chill, take a couple breaths, and just let her go through her routine. As I did that, she offered to show us the onsen (which was something I had been trying to get across..)... and things got better from there!
Two areas of the onsen: public baths (indoors) and the rotenburo (outdoors, open air) - the public baths had bamboo floors, baskets and shoe lockers, mirrors and hair dryers and all that, along with the sit-and-scrub showers and then a giant slate pool with HOT water... the rutenburo was down in a wooden structure with 88 stairs winding around the side of the hill towards the river... halfway was a room for relaxing and cooling off, with a watercooler and cups available, another set of steps down had single bathrooms, another set down had the women-only bath (very similar to the indoor public bath, but with open windows), and then another set down to changerooms and then four mixed-gender open pools: one was the size of most public hot tubs, with just rock around it, another similarly sized had cedar around and into it, another about three times as large and long overlooked the river, again with rocks, and the last was tucked down around the corner of the hill, half set into a cave, with concrete slab flooring. They were all HOT - between 42 and 50ish degrees, and lovely. The river itself was about 8m away, and the hills around were lush forest, so it was a really nice setting. It wasn't very busy, I think there were only four or five other people ever using it at the same time as our visits, and no one talked to us... when I went on my own during a time when all the outdoor pools were reserved for women (with a guard at the elevator who turned Chris away - we hadn' known the schedule), there were a half-dozen women using the space, and I got friendly nods and "Konnichiwa!"s... So, showering and scrubbing with nicely scented soap and then hot tubbing, over and over and over again in the period of just under 20 hours? Totally Christa's Heaven! I loved it!
The other special treat at the ryokan was having dinner served to us in our room.. we had requested vegetarian meals, to avoid difficulty with our food preferences, and had read a blog online that mentioned the lovely side dishes of vegetables that this place served. Our server surprised us by presenting us with a typed English menu that the chef had made, explaining what each tiny, beautifully presented, dish was. It was YUMMY! A non-alcoholic wine apertif, bean curd custard in a glass, veggie soup and a steamed mushroom cream dish that both had their own burners to cook while we started on the other dishes.... veggies in sauce, fried potato with a HOT pepper that I accdently ate whole (ouch!), rice with a variety of beans, veggie tempura, clear broth with noodles, traditional pickles, and then grapes and an orange for dessert.. and a good thing there wasn't more, 'cause we were STUFFED! Everything was lovely - my fav was the little star carved in the top of every mushroom! (one of the mushroom types was a cluster-bunch of long-stemmed, tiny-capped shrooms... reminded me of the squid and octopus I'd accidently ordered the other day!). The server also did the traditional kneeling and scraping as she left our room... took a while to get used to that, too! Breakfast was buffet-style.. and I TRIED the Japanese things, but it was the Western food that I filled up on!
Train back into Sendai (we missed the hourly shuttle bus by 10 min, so I got to tease snapper turtles in the entrance pond for a while), wandered around for a bit, then another train north to.... Matasomething or other... famous for its string of hundreds of tiny islands! Beautiful little place, quite geared towards the tourists (this was the first place I've seen the truly cheap souvenier trinket shops), but that meant there were nice facilities in place. We strolled the seawall, then paid a bridge toll to go onto one of the nearby islands that was set up as a natural park - one of the particularly neat things was the spongy path! Cement/rock paths were covered by a uniform layer of peat moss, or something like it! Not hard-wearing enough, as some torn spots showed, but really nice to walk on in the places where it was intact! Something nasty bit at my ankles, and I was swatting them as we walked, then tonight on the train Chris pointed out the giant red rash I had on both legs! Doesn't hurt, and is fading already, but grrrr....
As we walked back to the train station, we saw a number of signs "in case of tsunami, safety is 250m this way", etc.... I don't know if they had been hit in the past, or just realized that it could certainly happen again, but they were prepared!
Back to Sendai, and we were both wiped so we rebooked our train back to Tokyo for a couple hours earlier, and made it to our new hotel just before midnight. We're in the area that is known as the busiest station during rush hour, and I'm kinda looking forward to watching that.. at 11pm at night, it was as busy as many of the other stations we'd been in mid-day, so it should be interesting. A quick walk around the 'hood showed a bunch of cheap, late-night food places still open, and a number of bars, so we're guessing that this is a university district, but we'll figure out more tomorrow. 1:30am, time for bed!
Oh, description of our room at the ryokan: entrance area, step up to a hallway, on the left is a room with two sinks and a fridge, tucked in behind is a room with just a shower and tub... to the right is a sliding door/wall into a small space that could be a second bedroom, with the closets holding futon and bedding in here.. then straight ahead is another sliding door into the main room with tatami mats and a low table... then forward towards the balconey, and step down off the tatami platform to a small table with two chairs. Toilet? Yeah, we finally found that back in a door right beside the entrance, including toilet slippers that you use only inside that room. Fascinating :)
Subject: If this is Saturday, we're in Asakusa...
Date: Sat, 30 Aug 2008 11:13:37 +0000
- weird japanese keyoboard, I'm using the common machines in the room outside our newest hostel door while Chris is on the laptop playing games, so sorry for any weird typos,m I'm just gonna leave 'em in for flavour!
Friday - stayed in the comfy hotel until arund 1ish.. attempted to do laundry, but I apparently overtaxed the dryer, so two hours later our stuff was still damp, and I was itching to leave, so we pulled it out and spread it around the room to 'dry'.,. yeah, right! Two quick stops away on the metro took us to ShinJuku, one of the major sections of Tokyo, and to their government building, with free viewing areas on the 45th floor... poked around that area for a couple hours, then swung east to the 'seedier' part of Shinjuku (their adult entertainment palaces have photos at street level that are waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay beyond what we'd deem acceptable for the top rack in a convenience store) mixed in with shops and restaurants.
Most entertaining chunk of the day; we were stopped by two young men asking for directions... turned out to be a ploy by ESL students to strike up conversations with foreingers (okay, that isn't the keyoboard, I'm just tired).. a few minutes into the conversation, I mentioned that we were jugglers, and one of the guys really lit up! He openeed his bag and hauled out a trio of orange peels glued back together (Chris thinks they might have been just totally dried whole oranges, but I have my doubts), and asked us to show him.... so, 15 miun of juglging on the street, then he asked if we wanted to go to a restaurant and keep chatting. Cool, I thought, a local would take us to a japanese restaurant and help us figure out the menu! Er, no. He took us to McDonalds. Ah well.... as we sat, he showed us a handful of amazing magic tricks with a deck of cards, or a coin and a scarf. Seriously skilled, was neat to watch.. but Chris and I both checked that our wallets were still in place as we left!
Puttered around for more of the evening, until the skies opened up AGAIN.. but this time it was with a ferociousness that had the locals in awe... giant lightening, huge thunderclaps, and water that was pouring down the road.,. I took off my Birks and was running around barefoot *without concern, their roads are incredibly clean).. we took refuge in a restaurant where they handed us an english menu, took our order and brought our food with a bill, and then didn't repond to requests for our drinks to be refilled... tasty food, odd service.. but the people sitting around us were really willing to be helpful, so they made up for the staff.
This morning, we checked out and found a laundromat just a couple blocks away to finish drying our clothes, and then loaded up with luggage we hit the transit system again.... got boggled a few times, just with moments of indecision of which order it would be best to achieve things, but we eventually settled on going to our next hostel, dummping our bags, seeing the Samba parade, hitting bead alley, and then heading back out to Narita airport to pick up Chris" /our friends Brian and Michelle. As we got to the metro stop for the hostel, there was a backup of people at the exit to the street... watching the rain DUMP. AGAIN. Heehee.. I'm quite amused by all of it, and now that we'll have enough umbrellas to go around, it doesn't bother me. Walked to the hostel (google Asakusa Japan Carrot Building and see if anything comes up), sat for a bit to dry, then merrily carried on.. the Samba festival was neat - we only managed to hold out for about 20 min of the crowd and noize, but giant marching bands, hoards of Samba clubs, and feathered costumes galore was pretty entertaining to watch. If you didn't know, the fourth largest population group in Japan is Brazilian, after China and Korea... interesting history bits, google it if you like :)
Headed to the airport on the express train.. and as it pulled away, we heard that there were TWO terminals at Narita.. and we had no idea which one they were coming in to. Eventually figured it out (too late, at the wrong terminal and 15 min away), but we were just 20 min late to when they got to our meeting spot, so it wasn't too tragic. I felt like an old travelling-Japan-pro as I made suggestions about the transit passes they should buy, and led us through the various train and metro stations... heehee :) They've both done TONS of travelling through Asia, but this is their first time in Japan.. Michelle is of Chinese descent, so she's expecting people to chatter to her in Japanese and be confused when she doesn't understand.. but she'll be travelling with us three, tall, white folk, so it may help a bit.
We still have a day or two in Tokyo before heading for Kyoto.. not sure what ELSE we'll be doing, but I've got a hooping meet-up planned with a couple locals tomorrow afternoon in Yoyogi park, and there's a forecast of NO RAIN! Should be awesome.
K, 8pmish and we're heading out for dinner somewhere, and wandering the area... more later, of course :)
Subject: When we last saw our heroes, they were heading out in the rain...
Date: Wed, 3 Sep 2008 00:38:28 +0000
Wandering the area around our hostel in Asakusa showed a seedier part of Tokyo than we've seen before.... arcades and gambling places were busy, while shops were shut down and homeless folk were sleeping in or under cardboard boxes, or chatting with each other and watching folk go by. Nothing threatening, but then again, I find the area around Main and Hastings in the downtown eastside of Vancouver to be perfectly comfy..
The same area seen in the daytime was PACKED - this is apparently a major source for souveniers (still not sure about that spelling), so lots of shops with a range from kitchy nothings to high-end handmade knives. We were on our way to eventually meet up with some hoopers, so I was packing my foldable hoop around, and when we passed a pile of bags outside one of the shops that had a couple hand-taped hoops lying on it, I made friends with the owner - he was involved with one of the samba crews from the parade yesterday, so his crew gathered around as we chatted. When I unfolded my hoop, they went MAD! Folding Hoop! Look! ... I did a few moves to show them the style of dance I did, then gestured at his hoops to see how he use them... turns out to be poi style, and when I 'asked' to try them, and showed him some harder variations, he was impressed (I am SUCH a show off...) and then I gave him my hoop to try, and he immediately figured out Beam Me Up and a couple other things. 5 more minutes of various languages helped them figure out how I had made the hoop, and I gave them a business card with hooping.org and bodyhoops.com - she makes and sells folding hoops in the same style, if they decide not to make them themselves. Whee! I'm famous in Japan!
We headed to Harajuku, with one transit mis-step as I led everyone off the train at Shinjuku onto the local metro line.. only to realize that I was heading for our old hotel, and remembered that Harajuku is actually a stop on the main train circle. We had a couple hours to spare before meeting the other hoopers, so we headed for the NHK Broadcast Building so Chris could pick up a stuffed character that he liked.. Domokun ( spelled SOMETHINGlike that, I thnk) is a big brown blocky creature with a giant toothy scary open mouth and long arms to wave around... if you YouTube it, look for the 'Best of...' clip to see some funny bits. (I've started doing the Domokun dance wheneverI get excited about something, 'cause it makes Chris laugh). Turned out that it was some special NHK day, and there were a ton of kids and parents wandering around the area - there were play stations (help your child walk across this bridge of individually roped swinging logs!) (EEE! what are they thinking!!), something the Red Cross was doing (maybe tagging your child in case they get lost, or stranded in an eearthquake), and then little stage performances with giant animation characters.. I pity those poor actors inside the costumes, as it was still sticky and hot.
(Oh, the WEATHER! We had clear-ish sunny weather Sunday and Monday... I actually wore sunscreen at the park, and collecteed more freckles yesterday...)
When we headed back to my pre-arranged meeting spot at Harajuku station, one promenade area had a performer (or a group - one bunch of 7 doing amazing a capella stuff) every 10m... and they all had tiny portable amps and speakers, so you could stand in one spot and hear the competing sounds from all the groups.. some were excellent, others not so much,but it was a neat thing... along the edge of Yoyogi Park, we continued on and saw larger groups - full-size drum kits, speakers on stands, laptop computers hooked in... and then we came across the Elvises!!! Two seperate groups of men in black (leather, in most cases), with big pompadours and old-skool sunglasses... they were just setting up, then as we walked farther but continued to look back, they started dancing! You know how in high school, you'd stand in a circle with your friends and face each other as you danced? It was just like that.. not really performing to the crowd surrounding them (well...), but dancing for each other. Cool moves, too! When we passed them again later on in the day, one of the groups had started partner dancing with women who had arrived in their pretty vintage-style dresses... way cool!
Closer to the Harajuku station, we started seeing more of the Harajuku girls and the Goth Lolitas and the Goths.... kids (and in one case, a very-much adult) who spend a ton of effort putting together their costumes, then spending the day hanging around this one corner of the area so people can take their pictures. Google any of those terms and you'll see some amazing outfits... the one that I first thought was sad, but am slowly changing my mind, was an older man, I'd guess in his 40s or 50s, in a really poorly executed Sailor Moon costume. Wide-eyed, glittered and with a child-like smile, he wandered around and enjoyed the attention he received.... one poor band (all clean and tuxedo'd) was overshadowed when he stood beside them and flapped and waved his arms to attract attention.. all the cameras (okay, including ours) did indeed turn his way..
We met Tomo at Harajuku station, and then she led us through Yoyogi Park to their usual hooping spot under a giant tree! A couple of her friends joined us, and we spend a couple hours hooping (and sweating!!) and juggling (Chris found a couple jugglers nearby, and I sent Michelle off with a camera in stealth mode so we could finally get some shots of HIM on vacation), and it was delightful! Their hoop styles were based on HoopGirl moves, as that was the teacher-training that their instructors started with, though there are definitely flavours of Baxter and the Hoop Path - I think that YouTube has a similar influence on hoopers everywhere - and now they've got a couple of my fav moves too!
(okay, back to bed for another hour.. this one is being written in chunks)
(awake early the next day... in a different city)
After hooping, we were pooped but hungry, so we staggered through the craziness of the Harajuku shopping strip once again packed with young Japanese fashion-hungry kids... and eventually found a food court up on the second floor of a mini mall that provided us with miso-grilled noodles (yum!) and pineapple icecream, and after circling the busy room a few times, seats for four weary travellers. Headed back home with intentions of resting up for a bit, then exploring the Shibuya area, but Chris cried mercy for his feet, and we spent a quiet evening in our hostel room, reading and catching up on the most recent episode of Project Runway via YouTube (PR is a reality show, of fashion designers competing each week to create a garment under cerain guidelines, with specified materials.. fun! Chris is learning how to lisp like Tim Gunn, the designers' mentor)
The next morning got off to a slow start - with four people now having input on the day's planning, more negotiating is required. We eventually strolled off towards the train station, headed for the coastal entertaiment district of Obyau (I might have that totally wrong, but it started with an O)... but just as we got across the bridge by our hotel, Michelle's stomach started acting up, so we paused to look for non-walking options. This got us looking into the waterbus that we'd noticed under the bridge, and found that it had a route that went right to the area we wanted to visit, yay! .. but. Michelle decided that she wasn't up for the trip, and she headed back the hostel for a quiet day of tummy-coddling. Chris, Brian and I carried on, and the yet-again-helpful staff at the waterbus got us straightened out with tickets and the idea that we'd be transferring boats somewhere in the middle. The journey was pretty neat, though it was surprising how quiet the main waterway was.. we could see down some side-canals and there were a lot more boats parked along those banks - didn't see anything resembling the marinas of Vancouver. Each side-canal also had a gate with a heavy-duty wall that would drop down to cut off a rush of water in the event of a tsunami... seems these folks have it all planned out!
When we got off the waterbus, the area seemed filled with new, glossy high rise complexes.. I have a feeling that we may have been on a manufactured island, because this was the first place that we saw that lacked old teeny residences packed inbetween new highrises. We spent an hour or so poking around a multi-level mall, declining to spend $30 in a SEGA adventure arcade (Disneyworld for computer gamers) and then finding a little arcade tucked into a shop on the next floor that included a couple games Chris and Brian were familiar with, along with WhackAMole! (I have memories of West Edmonton Mall, and seeing that for the first time when I was.. 10?) Clothing shops, a Hello Kitty boutique where we found something for the friend who is fish-sitting for us (her request: something Hello Kitty that is practical. This is mildly harder than you might think.. but we found a nifty craft-style half-apron in black and red that looks liike a traditional Japanese design from afar, and it is only upclose that you see the Hello KItty face), and a pet store that specialized in GIANT BEETLES! Eeeek! Big scary horned ones, too.. yick. There were a handful of them in an open box display on the floor (think of puppies in a box)... and it took Brian a minute or two to figure out that they weren't just robotic toys. We also saw a cat cafe, where you could pay $8 to enter a room with a dozen cats to pet them, play with them, and have pictures taken.. apparently these are becoming popular as a place for people who don't have space in their homes for pets to come and enjoy the company of an animal. Brian and I were thinking about heading in, but between the price and the smell (room needed some serious ventilation help), this one at least was a no-go.
Next stop: the Museum of Applied Science (again, I may be making the title up.. but think of an extremely classy, adult version of Science World)... on the map it didn't look so far, but as I navigated us in the right direction (I have wound up in the role of map-reader and stranger-accoster, rather like the Julie McCoy of Love Boat that my friends compare me to.. guess it might be true after all) I slowly realized that this was a decent hike, say from Granville and Robson to Davie and Denman. We got there, and the building is GORGEOUS..looks pretty new, neat glass-and-steel architecture, and the inside shows that they put a lot of thought into the whole package, including some of the best indirect lighting I've ever seen bounced off black walls with alternating strips of matte and shiny sections.. dark, but light, and cool! We poked around a bit in the Natural Science area, until Brian pointed out that this was the one section that is the same at any science museum in the world, at which point we headed for the robot floor! First thing to catch our eye there was a working model of the internet, based on black and white balls that were sent through spiraling tracks and gates: you'd stand at a station, spin one dial to choose which station your message would be sent to (the first 8 bits of the message), spin another dial to choose the character or symbol you'd send (the second 8 bits of the message), and then slot white and black balls into the chamber overtop of the colour guides that had rolled into position with your dialed choices. Got them all right? Pull the lever and send them on their way, then turn the character dial to set up the second letter of the message. So, somewhere along the path the balls would take was a reader to strip the first 8 bits for location, and then once the balls made their way to the receiving station, that reader would identify the pattern of black and white balls in the second 8 bits to display the character on a screen. Chris and I were both playing with it from different sending stations, but had the same idea: he sent me "Xta" and I sent him "X (heart) C" - yeah, sappy :)
We headed out from there just in time to hit rush hour... we were game, ready for the packing experience of our lives (though I was thinking seriously about looking for one of the women-only cars)... only to be disappointed. The car load was no heavier than Skytrain at peak hours, so no packing or people running and jumping to hurl themselves into the cars... stopped off at Tokyo Station to let Brian see some of the neon lights around there (again, surprised at how non-crushing the streets were), then went home to find Michelle feeling much perkier. Rested for an hour, and then we headed out to Shibuya - Tomo's recommendation for a good time at night. We were all pretty hungry, so food was the first stop - a multi-floor restaurant that featured tatami mats (on the only night I'd forgotten to bring socks to slip on as I removed flip flops) and private rooms with sliding doors for each party. LIke most of the stand-alone restaurants we've visited, ths one lacked a non-smoking section, but the air wasn't toooo bad. The staff helped us out with an english menu, and the waiter was really good about clarifying things with us, and the food was EXCELLENT! The dishes that eventually made their way to the table included sashimi, sushi, soba noodles, a pizza, potato and rice fried thingies that are my new favourite delivery method for potato, grease and salt, and more... aside from an unfortunate desire to garnish every dish with bits of seafood (surprise krill! surprise tuna flakes! Augh), everything was pretty darn tasty, and we left feeling quite satisfied. Wandering the streets was an adventure - neon, restaurants, gambling arcades, and what we eventually realized were prostitutes: regularly dressed women hanging out at an intersection, dangling a hotel key in one hand... subtle, is she waiting for a friend? Oh, nope, she just went chasing after that business man until he brushed her off, and now she's back at her cruising station. We spotted some 'love hotels' in the area - by-the-hour rentals that couples use in order to get a little privacy away from their tiny house that may or may not be packed with mulitple generations of family members. Also spotted was a pet shop - tiny examples of dogs and kittens on display - mutts were listed starting around $130, and breed-identified ones were way more, so we wondered if there was some crazy licensing fee attached to that... I was voting for the idea that it is a supply and demand thing, but Chris and Brian argued fairly well against that.. (stupid math majors, hmph!). The style in kittens seems to be towards flipped ears - most were of the folded-forward type, but I saw one with winged ears that flipped backwards towards its neck! Cuteish... though I still miss my kitties :(
On the ride home, we were watching the woman sitting beside me on the train deal with the man sitting beside HER - sound asleep, he'd nod forward, then slide sideways towards her, then she'd nudge him back upright. We made several offers to switch places with her, but she waved us off with thanks... I've read that it is nothing unusual to Tokyoites to have someone fall asleep on their shoulder, and that they would grin and bear it rather than getting upset, though she seemed to get more disgusted as the time went on, eventually putting her sweater between them so he wasn't falling against her bare arm (though another offer to move was still turned down)... I was knitting, and if it was ME, I woulda poked him with a needle! As we got off the train and headed for the subway for the last leg home, everyone was feeling tired enough that we hopped in a cab. Dunno if it was a lack of clarity about WHERE the hostel was, or if there was some licensing issue that kept the cabbie from crossing a bridge, but we got a cab ride ALMOST home, and with a bit of wild driving, it was entertaining enough to be worth the six blocks of trudging hte rest of the way.
Taxis in the morning as well, to haul us and all of our gear to the train station, to catch a shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. They don't have van taxis here, so we ordered two to collect us, and tried really hard to get the idea across that it was impoirtant that we all wind up at the same place. Didn't work, and we were let off at totally different places (picture Tokyo train station being about the size of the extended Metrotown complex). We hadn't thought to make a contingency plan, so Chris and I just shrugged, grabbed some food to go, and headed for the shinkasen platform. Brian apparently thought it wouldbe a good idea to check out the various taxi stands around the station, so by the time Michelle finally persuaded him to just head for the platform, they had 10 min to spare before the train left, and they caught up with us in a bit of a breathless state.. BUT, we all made it, and hopped onto the train. Our seats were rows 14 and 15, with both sets facing forward - I was surprised, because I had asked for four seats facing each other, but then Brian found the lever to hit to swing one set around, so we piled in, had breakfast as the city whizzed by, and then settled down for naps. The trip to Kyoto took about two and a half hours - that thing goes FAST! Crazier when we'd pass one going the other way, WHOOOSH GONE.. and made me think of old math classes and problems that started out "if Ben is on a train going in direction A at speed B, and Tony is on a train going in direction C at speed D..."... no fuss on the ride, just more scenery.. mostly city, but some rice fields, mountains in the distance, and hills that were closer enough for me to see the foliage that created such a neat tapestry of colour and texture - I hope to be able to see a similar area up close, to figure out what the different trees are (ooh, I saw a ginko tree on the street at Harajuku, too coool...).
We arrived at Kyoto station, and it was HOT... not quite as humid as Tokyo, but definitely another step hotter. Hit an info centre, and I started in on my important questions ("can you tell me how to get to this yarn shop...") with the staff, when the guys pointed out a sign identifying this place as the Japan-for-Japanese tourist info, noting that a Japan-for-foreigners info booth was at the other end of the station mall. We did get a map to the hostel from these folks, and the gang wanted to hit the hostel to drop their bags first before figuring out the rest of the maps and things (Brian and Michelle are packing enough to tide them over for three months of backpacking through Asia, PLUS a bunch of belongings that Michelle will be flying home to Toronto first, on her way to collect a bunch of stuff from Canada Customs where it is approaching the one-year limit before they toss it).. so with me in charge of the map, we headed out. I THOUGHT we were on the right street, but the map didn't quite match, so I went in a shop.. only to find that it was closed, and I was disturbing their naps on the restaurant benches inside, oops! Again, very friendly and helpful folks, and they pointed us in the right direction. A few more blocks away, as we were waiting for the light to change, a group of local teens were waiting too, amd smiled at me as we all fanned ourselves to stay cool, "Hot?" "Hi (japanese for hot, one of my 10 vocab words so far)"... so Kyoto gets even more friendly points, 'cause locals initate conversations!
The hostel here is lovely - two modern buildings, bright and clean, and the rooms are a bit more spacious (there is about a food and a half beyond my arms reach in width, and I'd guess the room is about 15 feet deep - pure luxury! Chris and I are in one building on the bottom floor right in front of the entranceway and across the hall from the bathrooms, so a wee bit noisy but quite bearable.. Brian and Michelle are in the other building on the 4th floor, and just as we arrived, so had the city inspector to check out the elevator, so they had to schlep everything up four flights of stairs.. but they have a couch! I think their room is designed for 3 people, and some booking glich got them an upgrade.. their side also has a large internet lounge, and a TV room on another floor which was already in use, so we took Chris' laptop over to their room to watch a James Bond movie (thanks for the loan, Kyle!)... I fell alseep halfway through, so I snagged Chris' cardkey and headed back to our room. BOOM BOOM BOOM woke me up, and apparently he'd been knocking for a couple minutes that I'd slept through, oops!
Whoops, before we were home watching movies, we headed back to the train station, hit the english-speaking info booth where I DID get my directions to the yarn shop, and also to a swimming pool nearbyish, and then we went for dinner. The station has a basement filled with restaurants and shops, and we found a very tasty meal (again, hooray for english menus) with multiple teeny dishes of a bunch of things that were fresh and tasty and beautifully presented, oh my! Dinner done, we headed off wandering. No one was keen on walking into the downtown area (prob a 20-30min walk from where we were) but we also didn't think we'd use a whole-day bus/metro pass, so I put on my Julie McCoy hat and used three maps (city map, bus map, and the hand-drawn-with-yarn-shop map) to figure out where we'd go... hopped on the bus, used Michelle's ability to read Cantonese numbers to guide us to the right stop (Kyoto is organized on a grid - named streets one way, numbered streets the other), so I got us on the bus going up the correctly named street, and she spotted the numbered street for our stop. The hand-drawn map included TONS of landmarks in english (Starbucks, YMCA, bar names, restaurant names, "crab" to note the place with the giant moving crab sign), so we quickly headed in the right direction and arrived at YARN!
This was another branch of the Avril shop that I had hit in Tokyo.. but a HUGE space in comparison! Double-height walls on one side covered in pegs to hold cones of yarn, a loft built up on the other side, to climb and explore, and helpful staff who knew the english words for the yarn content... I didn't go TOO crazy (okay, $100 of crazy), but picked up the bamboo-and-copper yarn I'd forgotten to ask for at the Tokyo shop (the white bamboo and orange copper make a pink-looking yarn, cool!), some hand-painted wool and silk goodness that the other store didn't have, more of the straw-looking yarn I've been knitting into a hat, some wool-and-silk cabled yarn that the Tokyo store DID have but only in bright jewel colours, and this is a warm, chocolate brown... and some silk chenille, hand dyed in tealy greens.
Today's plan will actually include some history - I think a castle is on the list, along with some traditional gardens... the hostel has a little sign that Chris pointed out last night, explaining that there is a sento (public bath) just steps away, so I may go for a scrub and hot tub later tonight, if I don't hit the swimming pool at some point. (I feel a bit of a jinx when it comes to locating pools, even though we've only been misguided once so far... ah well)
Wow, I've been writing for most of an hour.. time to get Chris up, so we can meet in the hostel's restaurant for breakfast at 10!
Love y'all :)
Subject: Kyoto days 2 and 3
Date: Fri, 5 Sep 2008 00:31:26 +0000
We didn't hit the castle yesterday or the day before, so that's happening at 11:30 this morning.. Brian and Michelle are already off visiting another temple for photo ops, and Chris is still asleep (8:30am, that's reasonable) and we'll shower and pack and check out of this place by 10ish or so, then meet them at the castle.
Wednesday was the day I resigned from navigating... and aside from being mildly stressed about other navigators steering us wrong (okay, I need to have more faith that other people have similar skills..), I had a good time just tagging behind people and rubbernecking. After picking up transit passes from the Kyoto Train Station (a bit of a challenge in itself), we hit the subway and headed to the Imperial Palace. There was a definite lack of signage "this way to the palace" so it took us (okay, Brian) a bit to confirm that we were heading in the right direction, but eventually we got to the extended public garden grounds and started looking for the place to sign up for the tour (original plan invovled getting signed in, then hitting the castle a few blocks away, then coming back for the tour). The grounds have wide roads of crunchy gravel, and no particular walking paths other than that, so we crunched along, looking at neat trees (including probably one of the hugest non-coniferous trees I've ever seen), the occasional butterfly, and lots of unnamed ancient buildings. A busy gateway looked like it might be the tour place, but held one of the few less-than-pleasant Japanese folks we encountered.. I guess being a palace guard and having to deal with non-Japanese-speaking foreigners being in the wrong place kinda sucks... he did pull out a map and steer us in the right direction, so we eventually found the admin office where they photocopied our passports and gave us an application form to fill out, so that we would be able to enter the Imperial Palace grounds.
The tour didn't take us into any of the buildings, but wandering outside was still quite interesting. There was a variety of architectural styles, because the place has burnt down to the ground so many times that they could redesign it over and over again, each time including a design reference to a previous era. The brightest building was the place where coronations (that's not the right word for what happens to emperors, but you know what I mean) happen... white walls, and all the pillars and roof beams were painted BRIGHT ORANGE! It has something to do with Chinese influence at the time, though the Chinese version is more red, and the story behind it is that bright colours scare off evil demons. Other interesting lore: pine trees are revered here and get scuplted into a shape that suggests a person holding their arms up to the sky to be filled with the spirit of the god (s). Ceremonial life includes different gates into the compound depending on who is arriving.. the Emperor's gate is for his use, or his family IF they are travelling with him.. if they aren't, they get to use the Emperess' (sp?) gate.. and there's another one for nobles (along with waiting rooms divided by rank) and another one for servants (that's the one we got to use, though the tour guide suggested that maybe next time we visit, we'll have become visiting dignitaries, like PMs or Kings, so we could use the Emperor's gate! Neat!). The gardens inside the palace grounds were GORGEOUS. Okay, I get the whole Japanese-manicured thing now.. it isn't like an English garden of smooth lawn and hedges, and orderly planting.. it is about creating a mixture that is pleasing to the eye, always leaves something around the corner to keep you strolling.. and I'm sure there's a bunch of symbolism I don't understand. Hey, know those cement shrine thingies (cupola on four legs) that some people put in their gardens? I always thought those were along the lines of a garden gnome, but they were through the gardens here, and in the Temple we saw yesterday, so I think I need to revise that opinion...
We headed back to Kyoto Station for a meal in their underground mall - I had found reference to an organic buffet online, and we saw it in our rounds the previous day, so we gave it a try.. Brian and Michelle enjoyed their meals, and Chris and I were a bit 'meh'... buffet food just doesn't have the same fresh gloriousness as ordered meals, and while they had a decent variety, a lot of it was fish-based that neither of us were excited about. Next stop was a dessert restaurant - Brian had spotted the local specialty, a giant sundae TOPPED with a slice of cake, and he was determined to challenge his body to eat one (he's dropped about 6 pant sizes since we saw him last, hard core exercise and diet control), but wanted us along to help, just in case... we made it through, but for the next hour or so he was moaning about his body going into shock with all the refined sugar it hadn't experienced for months... I coulda licked that sundae all by myself! (wussy!)
Chris and I decided to have another quiet night at the hostel, spent a bit of time up on the rooftop deck admiring the lights (Kyoto is much less about high-rises than Tokyo...), avoiding the cockroach that he had squished outside the elevator the night before (ick!), and just chillin' and reading and watching Xmen... (cultureal overload? Watch some commercial dreck, it always helps!)
Yesterday morning we decided to rent bikes rather than damage our feet with more walking, but a few blocks away from the hostel realized that we should have upgraded to mountain bikes! The standard upright cruiser that everyone in Japan seems to use doesn't have any gears... it is amazing how much harder a gentle slope is, without the ability to shift! Brian led us along the start of a temple walk... which started going off track as soon as we hit a steep hill, got off to walk our bikes, and Chris pointed out a glass shop! Heehee... we DID make it to a temple (I'll figure out the name later, but it is up on the hillside of eastern Kyoto) but with a bit of poking around pottery and gift shops along the way.. the temple was HUGE - spread out over a good chunk of hillside, making use of the natural bushes and trees around it rather than having a garden, but with lots of water features - I'll have a picture of me dipping water from a big dragon scuplture, that one's for you Heather!... lots of gongs, too.. this was a Buddist temple (oops, might actually be a shrine), and there seems to be something significant about ringing a gong three times. They are hung up at ceiling height, so to make them ring, you'd grab a massive rope and haul on it so the top whacks the gong... we've also got a picture of one of the ropes - at least 40cm across in diameter, with beautiful coloured ropes plied together and then the whole thing is covered in macrame, with the slope of the macrame knots exactly matching the slant of the rope plies... gorgeous! Other interesting thing: a number of smallish rocks, about the size of a loaf of bread (sometimes sourdough rounds), with vague faces or body features carved into them.. and fabric aprons! I'll have to look up the festival, but these aprons all looked like they had been out in the weather for a while.... I'll be curious to find out what that is all about. (we're random sorts of tourists, not hauling interpretive guides around with us, just going "I wonder why..." and sharing ideas, but generally not searching out the real answers! Slackers, us..) The temple area took us a couple hours to get through, and then it was time for food.. bike ride back down the steep roads (look for a picture of me doing no-feet, wheeee!), then pedal along the sidewalk of a busy street (that's what they do there, no bicycles on the roads, oh, and no helmets either!) until we found a restaurant with plastic food that looked tasty. Soba (buckwheat) noodles have become a safe staple for Chris and I, and they were tasty enough...
After lunch, I took a turn at navigating - I thought we were pretty close to the Kyoto Craft Centre, and had found a museum of history and weapons that the boys would find interesting, so off we went... only to spend the next hour being somewhat lost, then finding that the Craft Centre was closed (dunno why, but it is behind construction barricades)... then off to the museum, only to find that IT was also closed, though more in the 'we're not open today for a random reason' than anything else. This WAS the spikiest building we've seen, though - barbed wire on top of metal spikes on top of wooden spikes... guess they were serious about their collection not heading out the door! Getting back onto Brian's planned route, we aimed for the 'prettiest street in Kyoto'... higher-ish-end tourist area that was indeed lovely (made me think of Yaletown)... classic Japanese wood-and-paper architecture, beautiful road surfaces and gardens inbetween the buildings, and lots of shops, including pottery that was in the $300-for-a-bowl range, and a glorious picture of a bamboo grove done on glazed clay tiles.. up in the range of multiple thousands of dollars. I did snag a vintage men's kimono here (in a 'everything for 1050 yen' shop - that's about $10CAD) in a sage green.. not entirely sure what I"m going to do with it, but it hangs well on me as a long, elegant coat... (yeah, exactly... I don't HAVE elegant clothing, so I'm not sure when I'll ever wear it!). If I had been thinking about things more, I would have looked through the women's section for fabric that I loved, even though they'd all be too small for me, I could still use the cloth to make something else at that price)... Chris picked up a door hanging that we'll use to cover a closet downstairs, and then we had an icecream and/or shaved ice break before wandering on.
Headed back to the hostel to clean up for the evening, hit the Kyoto Station again to book our train seats for coming back to Tokyo, then caught the subway towards downtown, and walked across the bridge (about a third the length of anything in Vancouver - there's just a small river cutting through one side of the city) to the Gion district - nightlife and geishas here! We bought tickets for the show at Gion Corner, with demonstrations of traditional Japanese art forms. It started with an abbreviated tea ceremony, then we watched two women playing Koto - long stringed instruments where the sound is changed by pressing down on the elevated strings - they don't hit a fingerboard like guitars, just air, but it creates a waah-waah effect - I'm sure you've heard it in 'this is the music of Japan' background music.... and while they were playing, another women created a flower arrangement. (apparently not an original one, as our english headsets mentioned it being a recreation of a sample available in the lobby for closer inspection). Next up was traditional court music and dance - I wouldn't be surprised if they had grabbed six men off the street and handed them instruments to play for 10 minutes, this was the most cacophonic 'music' I've ever heard, outside of experimental jazz
Off to eat, we headed back over the bridge into a little alley chock full of restaurants that Brian and Michelle had spotted while wandering the night before... Kyoto seems to shut down early, so a lot of the places were already closing or had a very limited menu still available (this was about 9:15pm).. we wound up in a place that specialized in leek, with leek in just about every dish on the menu. I had an incredibly tasty meal of leek-and-potato tempura (all chopped up then battered and fried kinda like a hashbrown), miso soup with tofu balls that reminded me of bread in a french onion soup, and some skewers of chicken that were so good we ordered more... Chris had udon noodles with some sort of yam soupy sauce to go on top - a very subtle flavour, and somewhat odd texture, but not bad, and Brian and Michelle did tofu and sashimi, including giant hunks of octopus tentacle!
9:30am now, so I'll gonna wake Chris and we'll get on with our day.... I'm hoping that the Raku and textile places won't be the bombs that I've read in people's reviews of the Kyoto Handicraft Centre - it looked so good in the guides, but visitors said it was just a giant shlocky colleciton of cheap souveniers... glad I didn't drag everyone out that way yesterday!
Alright, love you.... the photos I've mentioned will eventually be appearing online, prob Facebook and Flickr. I'll send you links when that happens :)
Subject: Coming Home!
Date: Sun, 7 Sep 2008 01:56:16 +0000
A bit I missed from Kyoto days 2 and 3 was on the way down from the huge temple, passing a group of schoolchildren and teachers, all with clipboards in hand, eyes wide watching us go by but not QUITE getting the nerve up to talk to us.. Michelle guessed that they were supposed to be practicing their English, so I turned around and asked if they wanted to practice on me. The boy who was out in front turned bright pink and smiled as he backed away, but another stepped forward, and with some prompting from his teacher, asked where I was from, what my name was, and a few other questions.. then he pulled out a map of Japan without any writing but three red dots, and asked if I knew where Hiroshima was - that's where they were from - .. I got it right, and then he pulled out an origami crane and asked if I knew what it was.. I'm still not sure if they were looking for 'origami!' but I answered 'peace crane', and they presented me with a lovely packet of origami papers!
Okay, catching up.. day 4 of Kyoto we DID hit the castle.. and it was pretty cool! Giant moat (15m wide?), nightengale floors (not squeaky, but indeed sounding like birds when you stepped anywhere, a warning system for intruders), and ancient paintings on the walls and ceilings (doors stayed closed against the light, and no photography as flashes harm the paintings. The outer walls were stepped all the way up for archers to rush to the defense, and the inner palace had its own moat, not sure if the bridge was a drawbridge or a push-the-bridge-off-this-side thingy, but the doors to the keep were super-thick.. Chris took a bunch of photos, so they'll be available whenever we figure out how and where to post 'em.
Post-castle, Brian and Michelle headed off to another temple, and Chris and I hit the Kyoto Textile Centre, just in time to catch one of their 6 daily kimono fashion shows, all modern styles, then we wandered upstairs through the mix of cheap mass-production stuff and very high-end one-of-a-kinds being produced by artists we could watch.. a man making paintbrushes chatted with me about their purpose (larger pouncing styles used with stencils, dainty soft ones for freehand) and their bristles (goat, horse, and boar), another was pleased that I knew enough Japanese to ask "shibori desu-ka?" - Is this shibori? .. as he was working tiny stitches into the fabric to form a resist similar to tie-dye. I picked up a giant skein of indigo-dyed silk (okay, it wasn't tagged, but it FEELS like silk, and it LOOKS like indigo dye) and a small coaster-patch of shibori in indigo, and then Chris was about at his maximum for craft exposure.
We headed for the train station - a couple hours early, but we've learned that things take us long enough to figure out that it is more relaxing to take an extra hour to find stuff, and THEN sit down to eat. Dinner was at the same tasty place we visited on our first day, and the extra time took us through the 9 story department store, including their fun stationary section (sheep paperclips! mini purple pens!) and the basement floor filled with FOOD! We grabbed a bunch of bakery items for the train (crazy amounts of packaging, as usual, but it DID include a nifty piece of ice-ish... didn't steam like dry-ice, but also didn't melt into a puddle of water ), picked up our luggage from the locker where we had stowed it at the start of the day, and headed back to Tokyo.
The hostel for the final leg of our journey was a few subway stops outside of Ueno... this time we had a four-bed room with ensuite - the most spacious place we've had so far, but also fairly run down (though it smells a lot cleaner than the last place in Tokyo we were at), but the inside of the elevator and all of the walls in the stairway are covered with pictures, magazines, paintings, suggestions of places to visit.. really quite neat! Our ensuite is a toilet in one cubicle (have I mentioned the tank style where the refilling water is actually pouring out of a tap at the top of the tank so you can rinse your hands before it goes into the toilet basin? Cool design), an open-access sink, and then a shower and tub room - HUGE tub, in the deep soaker style but with more length than I had seen anywhere else, and I was happy to have a chance to do some tub-reading in the mornings when I was up earlier than everyone else.
We got in on Friday night, and decided to go check out Roppongi Hills - the expat area of the city, where english-speakers tend to go if they want to hang out with their own kind. BUSY BUSY BUSY place, and fairly scuzzy - every street corner had a bunch of touts - men trying to get you to visit a particular club or restaurant, the first thing Chris and Brian heard was an invitation to a titty bar - and a handful of men openly staring at my chest. Bleah. This was the first (unfortunately, not only) slimy experience I had in Japan, and it left a sour taste in my mouth and a longing for the more polite company of Japanese (or Vancouverites!) that I had become accustomed to. We had dinner in a western restaurant (Wolfgang Puck's cafe, where Michelle had the best chicken salad of her life) and then hit a cab to get home.
Saturday we visited the 'Institute for Nature Study' - which I had hoped would be something wild and crazy-new, but was yet another manicured garden - and then split up. I wanted to hit more craft things on my own, so I could take however much time I wanted, and the three of them wanted to spend a few hours in Akihabara looking at tech stuff. They had fun, and I had amazing luck! I headed back to the Avril shop we had found on the first day, got lost a bit around the train station and then headed in the right direction... I eventually realized that I was getting close, but was one street too high. In the block between streets, though, I found a little mid-end craft shop that carried something I'd been searching for: ...acck, the japanese name escapes me right now, but they are dainty flowers made from folded fabric, sewn into hair ornaments that Japanese women would wear with formal kimonos.... kanzashi? Maybe... and a couple other hair pins with pottery sakura flowers (cherry blossoms), and a pretty bandana type thing (they might put it to use as a gift wrap, I'll use it as a bandana).... hit Avril, and in the two weeks since I"ve been there, they had shifted the shop around so all the summer yarn was hidden and the winter stuff was out. I was looking for a second yarn to carry with the indigo silk I'd picked up in Kyoto, so I could use bigger needles and make the yarn go farther, and after three rounds of the shop I had what I wanted.. along with 30grams of five tweedy silk yarns in coordinating colours so I can knit or crochet an ombre-effect of something, with the colours flowing into each other as I knit with three strands, and swap colours in and out as I transition along... and some wristlets machine-knit in a tube of the same yarn in one colour.
Heading back from the yarn shop, I found the tiny button store we'd spotted earlier in our trip - just at the point where I stopped to wonder 'have I gone too far and missed it?!" I looked up and saw a giant button sign hanging right in front of me, tee hee! Teeny walk-in closet of a shop, it had a lot of lovely buttons and beads, but I restrained myself (I was also down to just $40 on hand at that point) and bought some lovely buttons to hopefully go with some of the greenish yarn I bought.
Happily broke, I made it back to the hostel (minor transit glitch - as I transferred trains at Tokyo station, I realzied I could have gotten off three stops earlier as the routes overlapped), and we headed out for one last bit of Japanese fun, a burlesque show/speakeasy! I had looked for burlesque shows online before we left Vancouver, just curious to see if there were similar activities to what we'd do for a special night out here in town (Chris actually hasn't been to a show, but I've been out with the girls to several), and found Cherry Typhoon, a local performer with a bilingual website with her show schedule. A bit of hunting, and then asking a local, got us to the Samurai Cafe, where the tiny upstairs room was converted into a show lounge. We snagged one of three couches, and everyone arriving later sat on cushions on the floor (a couch beside us held a couple and their two children, one still nursing and the other about 3)... it was smoky and loud, but fun! A bit of burlesque, a neat duo of guitar player providing background grooves and a storyteller who had a small box frame with a stack of photos - he was narrating a picture book, pulling one picture out to display the next as he went along. It wasn't in English, but his second story was a long tale of some horses and their riders falling off as they clip-clopped (japanese sound is different, but obvious) faster and faster around the world... and just about all of it was sound effects rather than words. We were the only english-speakers in the crowd, and Cherry helped us out with an introduction and welcome, and a brief description of each act (though her banter was all in Japanese).. in between acts, we got our hands on enough wrapped candies from dishes on the table that Chris and I could do a mini juggle act, which gained us great applause and entertained the 3-yr-old mightily (the baby had kept herself entertained by picking up something (imaginary) from a woman and transferring it to Brian's hand and back). We didn't make it to the end of the show, between tiredness and smoke-buildup, but headed out, watched Chris play a game of Pachinko (like Plink from The Price Is Right) with the manager standing behind us (large crowds of tourists who don't understand the games apparently need supervision), and staggered home.
That's it.. oh, second slimy incident was outside a convenience shop, where a street-ish looking man walked over, stared at my chest, and gestured 'big boobs, niiiice' with graphic sign language. I moved behind Michelle (the guys were inside getting drinks), and he just moved to see me again. Brian came out, and I moved behind him, and the dude eventually gave up and left.. but it was waaay too.. unstoppable? for me. Yickyyickyick. Too bad I don't go for violence. Ah well. If that is the biggest glitch in the trip, it was a pretty darn awesome trip (and it was!)
Here's hoping for another smooth flight home.. next email will be from Vancouver :)
Sunday Sep 7
Our departure from Japan was fairly uneventful... got to the airport with time to spare for a stroll around Akihabara (I got a pair of nifty earphones that have little wires on the back to keep the buds in place while I hoop!) and make a quick trip to the Post Office so Chris could mail a postcard to his niece, and I could buy the Hello Kitty Kimono series of stamps... they had stuck in my head from an earlier visit to the Post Office (for international bank machines, and to add a rubber-stamp stamping into my log book - didn't actually find something that looked properly commemorative, so I've probably got some "Fragile!!" "Live Animals!" or some such in kanjii stamped into my book.
Flight was a teeny bit bumpier than the trip over, but still lovely. Watched the Sex in the City movie (not bad, pretty much a 2-hour version of a TV episode), taught a flight attendant how to knit (she started it, I swear!), managed to get Chris a veggie meal that was closer to something edible for him, but still had enough things that I got a decent share, and we made it home!
It is 1pm here... which means (I think) 7am Japan time, and we haven't slept yet. I feel pretty hyper right now, but I'll try for a lie-down and see if I can nap a bit.. I don't work until 8pm tomorrow night (hoop classes start up this week, with a LOT of brand-new faces, yeek!) and Chris told his job that he 'might' be in to work tomorrow, so we've both got another day to get our body clocks figured out.
Oh, and I have a WooLee Winder sitting at the post office to be picked up! Woot! (this is an attachment for my spinning wheel that will wind the bobbin automatically, so I don't need to stop treadling and drafting, ever! More spinning, faster!... I can't decide if I want to get spinning, or start playing with my collection of Japan yarns.. or do what I SHOULD, which is finish up my Maiwa samples for the workshops in early October...
Happy to be home, safe and sound.. the trip was awesome, travelling with Chris is as lovely as living with Chris, and I have a slightly expanded Japanese vocab (I MAY be up to about 15 words/phrases...)... so for now, Sayonara!