Hell of a day. Started with a kid's class.... Keep in mind, I don't like kids. Generally. I make specific exceptions, and they know who they are. This one is a seven year-old girl who's coming for god knows what reason. Probably because her parents think it'll help her get into a better class of junior high school one day. Or they want to use us as a high-priced day-care service. Damned if I know.
Also keep in mind, I have not been trained in how to teach these little monkeys. I don't know how to use the books or the materials or anything. I was last trained nearly four years ago, on an obsolete system. But my name still comes up as having been "Kids Trained," and the staff have neither the power nor the gumption to a) demand a properly trained teacher for those periods, b) tell the kid to come at another time when there is a properly trained teacher (we don't have one) or c) tell the kid to go to one of the 4 other NOVA schools on the street, all of which are much better-equipped to teach kids than we are.
So it was eighty minutes of pain for both of us. If I have to teach a kid, I teach it grammar. They hate it, it's a flagrant violation of the Kids' Teaching Policy, but it's the only thing I know how to do with them. They have next to zero language skills, because the current thinking seems to be that kids will learn if we give them badly-drawn books and make them sing. Well, apparanltly that doesn't work. So I try to teach them "I like (food)" and "I don't like (food)" and hope it sticks, which it won't, since the kid doesn't really care.
After that, I had lessons with adults... who were all about as talkative, including one high school girl who seemed to be drifting in and out of reality as I spoke. I would give her clear, well-enunciated and simple instructions, and wait. Five to seven seconds later, she'd blink at me and say, "What?" The common element between her and the little girl is that they both think they can get away with anything by just being cute.
Not with me, they can't.
Ever since then, I've had a throbbing headache. The kind that, in any decent narrative, would presage the eruption of horribly powerful, beautifully CG-rendered psychic powers. But probably not. I feel like ass.
I just finished compiling a spreadsheet of the books I have here in Japan. In a country where space is at a premium, and where I live in an apartment about the size of a Siena dorm room, I have 358 books of all shape and size. A bunch of them are language books, too, which makes me want to either laugh or cry....
Edit: Whoops, missed a pile. 375.
A side-effect of losing my addresses, it seems, was to send me into a kind of hyper-archivist mode, where I just want to catalog everything. I'm trying not to look at my DVD rack....
I love technology - I have an iPod, a Handspring, a cell phone and a new laptop. They're all great, but.... but I don't really trust them. An errant power surge, dead battery, mechanical glitch and everything goes Poof. So today, armed with gift certificates, I got a nice address book, and I decided to make a hard copy backup.
Turns out my Handspring's batteries were dead, so I put some new ones in, and discovered why I had undertaken this little project - the whole thing had reset itself, top to bottom. And I hadn't bothered to synch the thing because, honestly, I don't use it that often anymore, what with the multifunctionality of my cellphone....
So, my address book a pretty well decimated. I have a few floating around, but not many. So I'm putting out a request:
If you think I should have your contact info - snail address, phone number, all that - please email them to me at mshades at gmail dot com. Also, if you know anyone whose data I should have, sling it over too. Winners get a nice shiny Kyoto postcard. *smile*
Soulman's gone home. The trip overall was awesome - lots of fun, great weather nearly every day, good food, new people.... Of course, he can never come back, because I don't know how to top it. *smile*
The last event of the trip was a trip to historic Koshien Stadium, to see a Hanshin Tigers home game....
The seats were ard and narrow, certainly not built for the giant lumbering water buffalo that we were. Hells, they were barely big enough for the natives. People were filling them up, though, and by the end of the night, the entire stadium was full.
For a little while, we had some room - the two seats between us and the aisle were open - but that didn't last. While Soulman was off picking up some food, a young lady and her mother, who were also acquainted with the gentlemen behind us (I use the word "gentlemen" lightly, as at one point, they were shouting "Korose! Korose!" ("Kill him! Kill him!") to "encourage" their team) sat down next to me. The young lady looked somewhat wary and annoyed that she had to sit next to one of us foreigners, but that was nothing compared to her reaction when she saw the other one.....
I thought she was going to murder us.
She warmed up to us, though, when it became obvious that we were trying to be part of the game. We did our best with the fight songs, kept up the chants and the rhythms, and ate the weird foods that she offered us ("Just eat it. Don't look at the eyes, just pop it in your mouth and chew") She was also very impressed with my lung power, blowing up balloons for the Seventh Inning Conception Re-Enactment.
In the end, we were all good friends. Even with the guy in the Tiger suit, who must have been speaking pure, uncut Osaka dialect, because I couldn't even be sure that he was speaking Japanese.....
No, I have no idea why he has his finger up his nose, I figure the mask has taken him over completely by this point, and I was lucky to escape with my mind - if not my dignity - intact.
Anyway, great game. Tigers won 5-2, we got out with a minimum of fuss and compression, home by eleven. Couldn't have been better.
Well, maybe we could have learned the fight songs beforehand.... I have some great Quicktime clips, but no idea where I can put them for public consumption. Any ideas?
So that was it. Lots and lots of fun....
So, Soulman and I have been tooling around Kyoto the last few days. It's been a lot of fun, with awesome weather. Hilights so far:
The sento - I wasn't sure if he'd enjoy the baths, but he's really taken to them. We usually follow it up with a visit to Sun to Moon cafe, which has very cheerful owners. And damn good food. Highly recommeded.
Templing around - Kinkakuji, Kiyomizu, Jishu shrine, Mibudera... we've been keeping busy.
The Botanical Gardens - see previous flower-filled entry.
We've had great food, sushi adventures, weird hotels, filthy rivers, and horrible car accidents.... Not involving us, of course.
Only a couple more days left, including a baseball game. That ought to be an adventure....
Here are some more pics for you....
If you come to Kyoto, be sure to check out the Botanical Gardens. We went yesterday, and they were astounding, especially in the gloriously sunny weather we had. Got a bit pink on the exposed fleshy bits, but the gradens were worth it. Gods bless the Macro setting on my camera.... In terms of taking flower pictures like these, I'm definitely tuning into my father, but that's a good thing. *smile*
Here's a few pictures....
The Boyfriend and I went to Shiga to make pottery. I had a lot of false starts, and I think the staff learned a few new English swears, but I managed to make seven half-decent pieces in 50 minutes. I couldn't bear to part with any of them, so the workshop is gonna throw them all in the kiln. They should be sent to me by the middle of next month. I don't have room in my kitchen, though, so I may need to rearrange a few things....
We then went to the Miho Museum to see their current exhibit, "Shaping the Sacred." Art and sculpture inspired by religion from antiquity. Fantastic exhibit, and stunning museum. The thing is set in the hills, surrounded by trees, peace and quiet. Definitely go if you have the chance.
And my boyfriend took a damn good picture of me....
I saw this on TV while I was at the gym yesterday morning, and was stunned by the scope of the damage. And it kept getting worse as the day progressed - I think they're up to 71 dead, one day after the accident.
No one's quite sure what heppened, whether it derailed because of speeding or bad brakes or a stone on the tracks or what. They'd love to talk to the driver, but he's probably a smudge of red goo and unlikely to be very helpful.
Fortunately, no one I know was on the train, although my boyfriend works in that city and said he had to walk past the temporary morgue. Ugh.
Well, with the passing of the Pope, I felt I owed the Big Guy an appearance. As little as I think about being a Catholic - severely lapsed - it is hard to forget that I spent a long time as a churchgoer. Sometimes reluctantly, yes, but I was there. I was a lector in high school, one of the better ones, I must say.
I had a falling-out with the Church at around the same time I came to the conclusion that I liked Boys. It helped that I was at college at the time and no longer had my mother waking me up every Sunday morning. But I quickly realized that the Church I had grown up in considered me to be hellbound, by something I really had no control over. Even in his last book, the Pope basically threw homosexuality on the side of Evil, and there's really no coming back from that. And don't start on on "Love the sinner, hate the sin," because that's a load of extra thick and creamy bullshit that I will not get into at this time.
Suffice it to say, the Church and I split ways. I go into one as seldom as possible now. Christmas, if I'm home. A wedding, though with my teeth clenched as the officiator rattles off all the bits about "man and wife...."
There are good things about the Church, to be certain, but the differences are a bit too far for me to bridge. Still and all, you never forget where you came from, so I went to Mass tonight.
The Cathdral in Kyoto is pretty disappointing, really. All post-modern - lots of pastels and swooping curves and steel lattices on the walls. Probably cutting-edge architecture in the 70s, when the Church was trying to be all hip and with it. Compared to the many temples in this city, it's a bit lacking. It had all the necessaries, though - stained glass, uncomfortable pews, and the unmistakable smell of incense as you step through the doors.
The service, of course, was in Japanese, so I didn't understand anything they were saying. I remembered the rhythms, though, and pretty soon that heavy blanket of Catholic narcolepsy was threatening to settle on my shoulders.
As a side note - lots of women were wearing these white, lacy headscarves. Is that a Japanese thing, or is it some new little trend of which I was unaware?
Anyway, they went through the mass as usual, the bishop said a few words, and everyone went home. The whole thing took less than an hour and many people, true Catholics, didn't even take off their coats.
I sent up a prayer asking God if some divine intervention could be arranged when the Cardinals go into their conclave in a couple of weeks. I asked for someone progressive, someone who didn't think gays were evil and contraception was murder. Someone who would let women be priests and maybe, even, let priests marry. Someone who would let humanity and compassion override Church tradition.
But as they say, God hears all prayers, and sometimes the answer is "No."
I'm not holding my breath.
As a side note: it was not without great amusement that I noticed, behind the Cathedral, a garish pink Love Hotel:
So, anyway, I've been going to the gym for the last six weeks now, and it seems to be working out (HAR!) pretty well. I'd pretty much put off mentioning it here for two reasons - first, I didn't want the world to know if I succumbed to laziness and just stopped going. That doesn't seem to be happening, though. If it were, I reckon it would have happened by now. So, it is tough to go on days off, but I manage.
Secondly, of course, was the ever-looming spectre of failure and humiliation that seems to attend any kind of athletic/self-improvement attempt I make, and the irrational but unbanishable feeling of "They're all gonna laugh at you" is one of those leftovers from childhood that I still haven't managed to shake. *shrug* Oh well.
I managed to run a mile in under ten minutes yesterday, for the first time since high school. As I said to my father, there aren't many thirty year-old guys who can say they've beaten their high school running time....
The toughest part, of course, is being patient. I expect results on a more mental scale, i.e. NOW. I have to constantly remind myself that I'm working off decades of relative inactivity here, and my waist size isn't going to visibly shrink as I towel off from the shower.
Anyway, so that's what's up over here. That and my Sims.... I am a nasty God, by the way....
IRONY: (n) An ESL teacher who cannot learn another language, espec. the language of the country in which he is living. see also: HYPOCRITE
Well, I went out and did it - got a new laptop.
It's a lovely Toshiba Satellite P35, with all the bells and whistles, so I can finally use a computer without trying to grind my teeth to dust. And i can play Sims2 - tough game! My gay couple are falling out - one of them has nearly died twice from hunger - and their son slacked on his homework, so the social worker took him away! I guess they were right about gay parents after all... *grin*
I think the great thing about this, other than getting a slick new machine, is that I was able to decide to get a slick new machine and just go out and do it . A great change from, say, five years ago, when my only real option would have been to skulk around computer stores and hope that someone just gave me one....
Ceremonies are under way to mark the 60th anniversary of the firebombing of Tokyo, which killed over 100,000 civililans and offers up two lessons, one good and one bad:
1) Never underestimate the ability of people to rebuild. That city - most of the country, in fact - was destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in one attack, hundreds of thousands more during the course of the war. Enough to make the war in Iraq look like a carefully thought out war game. But Japan came back, and came back strong. A good lesson, that. Nothing is final.
2) Never underestimate the ability of a powerful country to do horrible things. As much as we like to think of World War 2 and "the last good war," there were horrors perpetrated on all sides. The firebombings of Tokyo and Dresden, the bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are some of the big ones. Given the number of civilians who died in those attacks and more, perhaps we should be grateful that the indiscriminate fist of US power hasn't killed more in Iraq.
I had a day off today and, unlike most of my days off of late, it was a warm, sunny day. So I went to do a little more temple-hopping, this time in the southeast of the city, where I had spent only a little time in my time here....
I first went to Tofukuji, which is actually a sprawling temple complex that really does take a while to walk through. But it's a nice place, and there weren't many people there.
It's quiet, and good for contemplation, so I contemplated. And watched crows fight over a nest up in the trees for a while, which may or may not have been an omen. Still working on that.
From there, I went to the next giant swath of holy land - Fushimi Inari shrine.
This is the place you go if you want success in business. If you're starting your own company, you do not want to skip this one, and once you have your business running, it would behoove you to make a visit once a year. They've got fox statues everywhere, as fitting an inari shrine....
And, as with the deer in Nara, you can't legally go to Fushimi Inari without taking a picture of the torii tunnels - each one of these was paid for by a business, hoping for the kind intercession of the gods....
And I really like the vertigo effect of this one:
By the end of the day, my feet hurt from the walking, so I may have to look into a new pair of sneakers. But still, it was a nice day for temple-hopping....
I seem to have let the blog go blank.
Had a nice weekend - The Boyfriend and I did a little temple-hopping....
I have no idea why Kitano Tenmangu has bull statues everywhere. One of my students says that the black bull in the picture is one that you rub when you're having physical issues - pain in the elbow, rub the bull's elbow and so on. No idea what happens when you rub the horns....
Anyway, there were very nice plum blossoms....
And then we went to Bodegon, a very nice little Spanish restaurant in Arashiyama. It was a very nice surprise, I must say, though the paella was a bit dry.
All in all, a nice time. And now I'm watching the DVDs of Deadwood that my co-worker loaned me.
And that's the way it is....
A Pringles nightlight. Free with a can of sour cream & onion chips, purchased at FamilyMart....
And what with the North Korean team being beaten out of a World Cup spot yesterday by Japan, it looks like they're a little touchy....
*sigh* Time to make sure my disaster survival kit is up to date....
I really hate this cold. And I get the feeling that it hates me right back. I have no NyQuil with which to defend myself.
I even watched the State of the Union to distract myself from it, but that kinda backfired when I started punching myself in the eye to distract myself from the State of the Union.
And now I've missed two days of work. With no paid sick days, that's gonna suck. And when the time comes round for my contract renewal, they're gonna pop up again and bite me in the ass....
Meanwhile, I'm not sure why this is news:
I mean, isn't that what these guys are for? In the words of the immortal Bill Hicks, "Aren't y'all HIRED KILLERS?!"
Fuck 'em. If we have to send guys off to war, they should at least be the type that enjoys it. Better to have 'em having their fun on a bunch of misogynistic, chauvenist, stone-age, fundamentalist motherfuckers 7,000 miles away than sitting at home over in the US wondering where their veteran's pay is and just how much of a fuss they have to kick up before it arrives.
I know, those of you back home in New England couldn't really care ("Come on over heah, Billy, and let Grandad tell you about the Great Blizzard of Aught-Five...."), but we almost never get snow in downtown Kyoto. So this is a treat.
Like I said, compared to the insanity that y'all got back home, this is nothing. But for Kyoto, it's something.
And it's good snowball snow, too.... *grin*
I have a cold. It sucks. I spent most of the day either sniffling or sneezing, which isn't very professional when you're doing it in class. *sigh* My students were very understanding, though. I'll probably take tomorrow off and watch "The Wire" season 2 DVDs that my co-worker lent me.
An interesting thing in today's lesson, though - a student and I were talking geneology and such, and eventually wandered on to the meaning of names. My surname means something like "Dweller by the low, flat ground/rock," I'm not sure which. So, just for fun, we put the kanji for "flat" and "rock" together and got something that would be a passible Japanese surname: Hiraishi.
Doing the same for my first name proved harder. My given name means "Christ bearer," so we used the kanji for "god" as a substitute for Christ. "Bear" proved difficult, so we settled on the on for "keep / hold / maintain." This gave me a given name of "Kamiyori," which, with the family name, sounds like something out of a samurai movie - Hiraishi Kamiyori.
And, because I can't let well enough alone, I went into Photoshop and made a name plate thing....
After four years, I have gained another Holy Grail - a shoe store that sells shoes in my size.
Just on a whim, I thought I'd check out a store to see if they'd changed their minds about only stocking up to size 10. I saw a groovy pair of solid black Converse All-Stars and inquired as to the size range. They didn't have them, of course, but they pointed me to their sister store up the road, which might be able to help.
So I went. They didn't have the all-blacks in my size, but they brought me upstairs, where the Mother Lode of Big Shoes could be found. I was thrilled.
And they're CHEAP! I got a pair of Aisics sneakers and a new pair of Doc Martens boots (with inch-thick soles) for 6800 yen. That's about $66.
I asked the elfin young salesman if he was bullshitting me - I checked the bottom of the boots, gave him the full weight of my disbelief, and he tells me that, since there's such a small market for shoes in this size, they can afford to sell them at absurdly low prices. All supply, low demand.
So, if you're in Kyoto and need big shoes, head on over to Step Kyoto on Shinkyogoku, across from the Sakae supermarket.
Yay! Four years here and finally I find one....
So I've been in the house for the last few days, being really slothful and waiting for the stores to open up again. Today I got sick of being a recluse and did a little temple-hopping. Well, more like shrine-hopping, really... Anyway, I got some good shots....
I figured I'd get the attention of enough of you with the pentagram font. That comes from Seimei Shrine, the home of Heian era sorcerer Abe no Seimei. Lots and lots and lots of pentagrams.
The roof tiles of the main temple:
Detail above the shrine:
This is a doorway I found at Shokokuji, which gave me a very Narniaesque feeling:
One of the main gates to Shimogamo Shrine, one of the oldest in Kyoto:
A very cool owl lantern I saw on Senbon Street, not far from my home:
And the official mascot of the Kyoto Sewer Department: a firefly in blackface - Chouto-kun:
Here are some photos that I couldn't really fit into the regular entries. I think they're worth looking at. I mean, c'mon - I look good.... *grin*
There were some interesting things in this city, just asking to be photographed. Plus, some good shots of me. Narcissism isn't all bad...
Me eating udon. My goatee is really red....
An interesting modern-esque torii outside Kanazawa station. It would look better without all the blue plastic, though.
A statue of Jesus - and a pentagram - at a Kanazawa church.
Me on the train, lounging in first class....
Very photogenic city. Enjoy....
After coming home and falling asleep in the warm embrace of my room, I figured I'd let y'all know how the rest of yesterday went, besides the gilding.
The gold leaf place was pretty cool, actually. Turns out that you can gild pretty much anything. Since Hideki Matsui is from Kanazawa, for example, they have one of his bats and a ball gilded at the shop we went to - the Hakuichi Gold Leaf Company.
When you get there, they lead you downstairs past a gilded set of samurai armor in its own gilded room, where they explain the surprisingly simple instructions for how to put gold and silver leaf on something. Then they give you a box of your choice, some masking tape and off you go!
As you can see from this picture, I went the obvious route on my design. My boyfriend did something more abstract and geometrical that he was convinced was horrible, until we finished and discovered that it wasn't.
Anyway, you get these thinner-than-tissue thin sheets of gold and silver leaf, which you then cut up and apply to the box. Silver leaf is more of a pain in the ass than gold, which probably explains why Ginkakuji never got done up in full silver.
From there we took another taxt (kanazawa not being hip to subways yet, I guess) to a rathe famous temple in these parts called Myoryuji - also known as Ninja-dera, "the Ninja Temple."
This is a misnomer - there were never actually any ninjas at ninja-dera. They would have loved it, though. This is a temple that was kind of the first line of defense for Kanazawa, and was the center of the entire temple district. It's a murder-mystery writer's dream. It has 23 rooms and 29 staircases. From the outside it has two stories, but actually it has four. Some rooms have as many as five exits - only two are immediately obvious - and one room has no exits at all. Once you're in, you're not coming out. That's the seppuku room. There are fake walls and floors, hidden doorways.... it's truly awesome.
When I'm rich and famous, I want a house like that. My boyfriend said, "Why? You don't have any enemies to defend against." I told him that wasn't the point. I would actually invite the Jehovah's Witnesses in for once. "No, just go down these stairs, I'll be with you in a moment." Mwa-ha-ha.
The tour was done all in Japanese, so I probably missed a lot despite the English pamphlet. And it was really cold in there. But it was very cool. When we were done - and finally able to take pictures - we had lunch and then wandered around in the snow for a while. We wanted to paint some pottery - Kanazawa is also famous for pottery - but they were closing up early for the holiday.
A travel tip - don't come to Japan over New Year's if you want to take tours and go shopping and stuff. Everything's closed.
Cold and tired, we went back to the hotel, where we worked on arranging dinner. Another New Year's problem - most of the restaurants we tried were either closed or booked. Now I know it seems, from an American perspective, to be insane that a good steak restaurant would be closed on New Year's, but here, it's kind of like CHristmas Eve. Everyone just wants to be home.
We found a hotel restaurant that was open, so we took a bus over there. It had an interesting name - N36.5 - which apparantly references the line of latitude that passes through it. Gods love GPS.... We waited for a while when we got there, but it wasn't too bad, as the staff were incredibly apologetic. When we did get to sit down, we ordered the steak and lobster dinner. Surf and turf, as it were.
I have never paid that much for a meal, and probably never will again, but I figured it was worth it. We got to sit at our own little Benihana table, watching the snow fall outside the window, a handsome young chef preparing our food, and lobster twitching on the hot griddle.
I know lobster are not complex creatures, and I may not be a marine biologist, but I'm pretty sure even lobster cannot survive very long after being cut in half lengthwise. So I'm going to stand firm in my belief that it was a contracting effect of the heat that made it twitch its legs in such a lifelike fashion. I gave brief thought to rethinking vegetarianism, but then I tasted the lobster and decided that all thos tree-hugging hippies could keep their granola dna their tofu. Oh it was good. Sooooooooo good.
And then there was the steak. I cannot accurately describe how good the steak was, other than to say this - this is why God created cows. I no longer have any doubt in my mind. *grin*
After dinner, we took a taxi back to the hotel and crashed. We hit the baths to relax, and let me tell you - there's nothing nicer than a rooftop bath in the snow. Hot water, steaming up in the cold air, and lightning flashing in the distance. Never did figure that part out.
We went back down to our room and thought about the evening's events. It was, after all, New Year's Eve. This being Kanazawa, though, there weren't too many options. This isn't exactly a party town. Plus, my boyfriend had been feeling a bit wonky all day, so we figured we'd stay in and watch TV.
NHK - the national broadcaster - was doing their New Year's Special, which put me in mind of the TV galas of old, when they would have all of their network stars on, singing and dancing. Some of the acts were quite nice, some were a little odd, like the guy who did a "Shogun Samba," which, like so many things in this country, is really difficult to explain.
When the NHK thing ended inexplicably 15 minutes before midnight, we switched to another channel, where they were having their big New Year's Celebrity Immolation. It involved burning loincloths, giant exploding daruma dolls, and a magic trick that would be well within the capabilities of David Copperfield or David Blaine, if either man were willing to paint his bare ass like a daruma and be buried ass-up in the ground. And then do a song and dance with 15 other naked, similarly painted men.
With that on our minds, we went to sleep. This morning, without much ceremony, we left Kanazawa and came home, having had a very nice time altogether.
And so it's 2005. How the hell did that happen? I have to think of some resolutions - get a gym membership is one good one, as is taking Japanese lessons. But for now, I've got a few more days of vacation left, so I'm going to relax and be slothful. Yay!
I hope you all had a good time, and you have a great new year....
For the New Year's holiday, my boyfriend and I went to Kanazawa - a nice little city north of Kyoto on the Japanese sea. We had a lovely time, and I figured I should share it with all of you.....
First off, day one, reedited from my LiveJournal posts....
It`s cold in Kanazawa, but not unlivable, although to hear my boyfriend grouse about the cold, you`d think I should`ve brought along a Paraguayan soccer team just in case we ran out of food.... There was a lot of snow when we got here, which I loved. I haven`t been in a big snowfall in a long, long time, and it was like returning to my roots. Very nice. We came in the first-class car of the train, which was awesome. No need to travel with the proles.
We went to Kenroku-en, the park for which this city is famous, and walked around. It`s a lovely garden, probably even more so in the spring and summer when it`s green, as opposed to white. When I`m rich and famous, I`m going to tell my landscaper to look there for ideas. We also saw Kanazawa Castle, which was... well, a castle. Nice and snowy. I made a snowball and assaulted the walls of the castle, but they withstood, the bastards.
We also checked out the gold-leaf shop, where I bought a nice gold-leaf sake cup. We plan to go to the workshop where this is done either tomorrow or the next day. People who go can do a little leafing of their own - if I had known, I would have brought my iPod and gilded it. We shall see....
For dinner, we went to a crab restaurant, which didn`t quite live up to our expectations. The crab was cold, but plentiful. And there were plenty of courses, including sashimi and crab brains. I think. And possibly fugu ovaries. I`m not sure. But it was tasty. One thing that put my off in the beginning was that the waitress thought I was telepathic. I asked for draft beer, to which she replied, "We don`t have draft beer," and then said nothing else. So it became a game of 20 questions to figure out what kind of beer she could get us. Luckily I play that game well and got it on the second try.
Overall a nice day. Two more to go. I may or may not update, depending on how exciting things are. From here, probably a trip to the baths and then sleep....
I was waiting for the train this morning and glanced across the platform to the Osaka-bound side. There was an ad on the wall that, frankly, puzzled me. I could clearly read the word "Christmas" on it, but the image on the poster was, shall we say, not the traditional Christmas one.
When I came home, I took a closer look at the poster and it was exactly what I thought it was: A Christmas ad featuring a large black coffin:
I'm not sure what the writing down the side says, but it's definitely a Christmas ad, with a dead white hand in a dinner jacket protruding from a coffin, holding a cheery red sock:
I love this country sometimes.
EDIT: If I'm reading through the glare right, I think it reads "Kurisumasu ga nigate na hito ni mo kurisumasu," which means - unless I'm horribly mistaken, which I may very well be - "Christmas is still Christmas for the weak." In this case, I think "weak" is in terms of "not good at...." Again, I could be completely wrong.... Just thought you might like to know.
It's now been one year since I quit smoking. Rock on.
I didn't even have one while watching the election returns, and I think that speaks to great force of will.... *smile*
Primary mission accomplished - I found Denny's:
Now I can get on with less important matters.
I went out today to do a little exploring. Usually my boyfriend comes over on Saturdays, but he was doing his company end-of-year party thing, so we're getting together tomorrow.
I went down to Tennoji, in southern Osaka, where the Denny's was. Before hitting the restaurant, though, I went over to Shitennoji temple - one more stamp for my temple book. It's quite nice, actually. I think it must have undergone a refurbish rather recently, because the colors were bright and the Buddhas (which we weren't allowed to photograph) were shiny.
After that, I headed over to Tennoji park, which you can wander about freely for a paltry 150 yen. It's nice, except for the work crews redoing all the flower beds. There's an oddly attractive statue of two naked guys at one of the fountains. I say "oddly" because all the other pieces of statuary were fairly abstract and representative, but these were fairly realistic. Go figure.
When that was done, I got about the real reason for my trip down there. Denny's.
Imagine you have a best friend. You hang out a lot, and he's kind of uncultured, but he's dependable and fun and low-maintainance and you get along really well. Then you find out that he has a cousin that he'd like you to meet. You don't know much about this cousin, but from all you do know, you expect him to be kind of like your friend, only different, but in a good way.
So you wait for it and wait for it, and when circumstances finally arrive that you get to meet this person, you find out he's a Mormon.
I also had a Caesar salad, which sadly misses the mark. Maybe it's okay for the residents of this benighted isle, but for those of us who know better....
And it was around $19. Entree plus salad plus coke plus coffee.
There is something seriously wrong with that picture.
Anyway, the day wasn't a total loss. I got to see nice gardens and a temple and stuff. If I had only gone to Denny's, I might be depressed about it.
Still and all, this was one of my original goals when I set out oh-so-long ago, and it's good to cross that one off my list.
I feel like... blech.
Haven't had a cold since the beginning of the year, once my body got the message that I wouldn't be smoking anymore, so I guess I'm due.
I'd love to take the day off, but....
1) I'm waiting on an appeal to my pathetically low salary increase from my last contract. One of the reasons they dropped it was that I dared to take six (unpaid) sick days last year. So, until I get a yea or nay on that, I'm not taking any chances.
2) I have to teach kids this morning. I don't want to teach the filthy little monkeys. I'm not properly trained to teach the filthy little monkeys. I have never wanted to teach the filthy little monkeys. But I'm the only one on the schedule who can, so I get 'em. I've been bitching about this all week, and if I call in sick, no one is going to believe that I'm not trying to skip out on the filthy little monkeys.
3) One of my regular Sunday students is working with me on an oral presentation she has to give in two weeks. She only comes on Sundays, and I'd hate to leave her in the lurch.
Blech. Damn ethics.
Takako Minagawa, her 3 year-old daughter and 2 year-old son were trapped in their car by a landslide four days ago. The son was recued and is in the hospital now with his father. The mother was also rescued, but died on the way to the hospital.
All cynicism aside, this is quite the story, and I have no doubt that Mrs. Minagawa will be placed high in the ranks of Good Mothers for staying alive long enough to see at least one child rescued. Add in a bereaved husband, surviving son and missing daughter, and you couldn't write a better 2 hour movie....
There was another severe aftershock today. People up in Niigata are about to snap from the stress. The news is currently showing every piece of videotape they have from the latest shock and I cannot imagine being in that situation - can't go home even if they have homes left, the evacuation shelters are overcrowded and undersupplied, it's damn near freezing cold, rainy and probably going to snow soon.
I can't find any good links to send you to if you want to send money to help out, but if you find yourself with a chance, do a good deed.
I guess the recent quake in Japan is getting a lot of press time, and I've already received calls from my family wondering if I'm trapped under tons of rubble, so....
The quakes registered about 6.something on the Richter, I believe, in Niigata, which is in Northern Japan. So far 21 people are said to have been killed, which comes far short of the thousands dead in the Kobe quake ten years ago, so there's that much to be thankful for. The quake is also responsible for the first-ever derailment of a bullet train in Japan.
So, between that and the massive typhoon last week, this has been a fun time for disasters. In fact, thanks to the typhoon, folks in Niigata get to deal with mudslides....
Here's a map to give y'all a sense of scale. The yellow bullseye is roughly where the quake happened.
Well, I guess it's a good thing that my family isn't coming to Japan right about now - we're getting slammed by another typhoon, and at the moment, the center of the storm is heading straight for the Osaka-Kyoto basin. Should be fun....
Being pretty far from water, the only real effect we'll get will probably just be some strong wind and heavy rain, but nothing too spectacular. Not like those poor bastards in Kyushu who are getting their boats swamped from the other side of the seawall.
Not to mention my workplace is built with both the solidity and the aesthetics of a nuclear bunker, so I think I'll be safe in there. It'll probably be a quiet day, though, with not so many people willing to brave the storm for their English lessons.... I might get some reading done.
I'll bet the weather in Spain is lovely.
Day Four: Kobe to Kyoto
Chris woke up and, surprisingly, didn't smack his head on the ceiling of the pod.
As per his routine, he had repacked his pack the night before, so that, again, all he would have to do in the morning would be to wash, eat and go. Keeping things easy - a vital part of any vacation.
He changed into the bath clothes and headed upstairs to the baths. The room was mostly empty, which was fine with him. He soaped up at the washing stations and settled into one of the jet baths to try and wake up. It did a fair job, but he was so psychologically attuned to the effects of a shower that it wasn't quite what he wanted. He was clean, yes, but the shower was part of the series of signals that woke his brain up. The bath was nice, but not enough. He would need... coffee.
There was a breakfast offered at the hotel, of course, and he went up to the restaurant floor to get it after he'd changed from the bath. The restaurant was empty, though, except for one guy watching TV and another guy asleep in one of the booths. Chris checked the sign at the top of the stairs. It indeed said that there was a breakfast set to be had. He scratched his head and tried to read the rest of the Japanese on the sign. It was tough going, but apparantly the breakfast was actually being held on the first floor, for reasons he couldn't decipher.
So he shrugged his shoulders and took the elevator back downstairs, yawning as it descended.
The sat down, ordered the hot sandwich breakfast, and took out his atlas. This was going to be a tough day.
Of the whole trip, the Kobe to Kyoto leg would be the longest. He knew that when he planned the trip, but hadn't decided on whether he was going to do it all in one day or not. He figured it was possible, but the question was, how many days would he need to recover from it? From the map, it looked like all he would have to do was follow the Hankyu line to Toyonaka, and from there make it to Suita, and from there maybe to Ibaraki or Takatsuki. He had no idea how long this would take.
On the trip from Osaka to Kobe, it seemed to take forever. He would cycle what felt like a long distance, only to discover that he'd barely moved on the map. If the trip out was anything like the trip in, he had to seriously start thinking of a midway place to stop. For now, though, it seemed like a good plan to start with. If he had to modify the plan while he was riding, then so be it. He could handle another day of riding but, truthfully, he didn't really want to. The idea of getting home was quite appealing at this point.
He finished breakfast and went upstairs to get his stuff. He checked the pack and scanned the room to make sure he hadn't left anything. He hadn't - the room was clean. As he was walking back to the lobby, it occurred to him - sungalsses. They should have been in one of two places - perched on his head or hooked into the cell phone holster which was hanging from his pack strap, but they weren't there.
He paid at the front desk and checked out, then sat and tried to figure out where he had put the sunglasses. Not in the side pockets, or the top pouch. Not in his shorts pockets or stuffed in amongst his clothes. Not hanging off of anything or stuffed in anywhere.
It was possible he had left them somewhere the evening before, when he went shopping, but having shades was such an important part of his being able to function in sunlight that he was usually very careful about where he left them. "This is why I only buy cheap sunglasses," he said as he cinched the pack on his back.
Sunglasses or no, there was really nothing he could do at this point. Oh sure, he could have sat in the hotel and waited two hours for the shopping plazas to open, or just simpered and whined about the sun hurting his eyes. But that wouldn't do much good, would it?
So he went outside. He squinted in the bright light and sometimes had to keep one eye closed, but he went out, unlocked his bike, and started riding.
It was uncomfortable. Not only because the sunlight was stabbing into his eyes, one tiny, needlelike photon at a time, but because of that lack of sunglasses, he wasn't confident in his ability to accurately gauge his surroundings.
Part of doing anything safely - be it riding or driving or hiking or simply walking around - is being able to figure out what is near you, and how much of a threat it is to you. He had long prided himself on being observant in this arena, looking through corner windows to check out cross-streets, watching shawdows and reflections in window-glass. Looking up the road to predict traffic patterns around parked trucks and traffic lights. But without the sunglasses, his confidence was diminished.
"This SUCKS," he said. Often, and out loud.
"So what're you gonna do about it?" was the response he found himself with.
At 8:45 in the morning, there were very few options open to him. Most stores didn't open until ten o'clock, except for convenience stores, which didn't carry sunglasses. All he could do was either stop and wait or get over it and move on. He moved on, occasionally cursing the sunlight, but otherwise trying to do the best he could with it.
As time passed, he got a little more comfortable with the sunlight, though he did still try to stick to shaded areas. What he wasn't comfortable with was the route he'd chosen. Following the Hankyu line meant a lot of steep switchbacks and hills to accomodate crossroads. This was very much unlike the route he'd chosen on his way into Kobe, which was pretty much flat, with only the occasional irritating interruption. Not this, though. It seemed like every intersection had some kind of re-routing where he had to go up a ramp or around an underpass, and it was beginning to get on his nerves.
Checking the map, he decided to go downhill a couple of streets. They all went the same way anyway, up until Nishinomya. Once he got there, he could figure out where to go next.
He followed an important-looking street two blocks down. He could occassionally catch glimpses of the trains on his left and the expressway on his right, so he knew he was going the right way. The street was a little busy, but quiet enough that he could ride on the street itself, instead of the sidewalk, which had so many dips and drops in it that he wound up having to stop twice to retrieve objects ejected from the bicycle's basket.
And then, for no reason he could figure, the street ended. It detoured drivers downhill, to the street he had come in on, but otherwise it just ended. As near as he could tell, from the construction machines behind the barrier, they hadn't actually finished building the street. Not too surprising, when he thought about it for a moment. Construction companies in Japan tended to get the lions share of city money, doing massive public works projects that nobody really needed. If you ever needed to look for a corruption scandal in Japan, turn over a construction company and you'd find it. This was probably another one - some city councilman in Kobe helping out one of his friends with a business. It was a shame, but more immediately, it was a pain in the ass.
The best thing to do was to detour uphill, back to the Hankyu line, since that was what Chris was taking his navigation cues from anyway. He huffed uphill and turned right after crossing the tracks.
This part of Kobe - up the hill and away from the city center - was quite nice. It was quiet and clean and the atmostphere was one of peaceful opulance. Again, he was struck with the feeling that this would probably be a very nice city to live in. He wasn't ready to move yet, but if the time came....
Finally, he came to a station and stopped. This would be good place to get my bearings, he thought. He got off the bike, grabbed his map and tried to figure out where he was. He asked a woman who was standing nearby, and she told him that he was in Ashiya.
He walked up to the ticket route map to see which station came next, and an old man asked where he was going. "Kyoto," he said.
"Ah, Kyoto-fu," the man said. He looked up at the map and, before Chris could stop him, said "You want to go here, yes? You buy ticket for.. this much," he said, pointing at the price.
Chris smiled. "Thank you, but...." He pointed at the bicycle. "Jitensha de."
The man looked at him and made a sound of understanding. "Ganbatte," he said.
From the route map and his atlas, Chris came up with a new plan: go to Shukugawa station, and from there head towards Itami. Once in Itami, re-evaluate the schedule for the day. Simple.
And indeed it was. Following the train line was no problem, and except for the occasional switchbacks around underpasses, the route was straight and even. It was mostly residential with a few stores and cafes thrown in for good measure. When he got to Shukugawa, all he had to do was find the big road that led to Itami. The road was on his map but was not, unfortunately, labeled. So he stopped at a 7-11 to ask for directions, secertly pleased that he had reached a certain level of comfort with this kind of Japanese.
The young lady told him, with a series of hand gestures thrown in to help, that he just had to follow this road to route 171, which would then take him to Itami. He thanked her for her help and started moving.
When he reached route 171, he found a surprise - not only did the road lead to Itami, but if he followed it, it would take him right into Kyoto, which was only 34 miles away. Only 34 miles, he thought. Combined with what he had already done that day, it would probably be about 43 miles total. More than he had done before, but not impossible, right? He decided to ride on and find out.
As he was riding, route 171, like routes 24, 24 and 43, occasionally became large superhighways, and he was forced to find side ways around them. On one of these side trips, he came across Koya Shrine.
It was a small shrine, with a few buildings, but it was a good chance to rest and take some pictures. Besides, it was getting close to the hour and a half mark, where he got to take his break. After getting his shots of the shrine, he hopped back on the bicycle and started looking for a place to stop. He had seen a lot of family restaurants and fast food places already, and figured there would be more up ahead.
There were, but it took a while. He ended up at a family restaurant, similar in style to Denny's or Friendly's back in the States. The restaurant was nearly empty at this time, which was fine with him. He was served fairly quickly - another hamburg meal, this time with curry sauce and chicken nuggets. Whatever. He was starving, and proably would have eaten most anything at this point.
"So," he asked himself. "Stop for the night or go all the way?" He stared at the map.
"C'mon," he answered. "That's an easy call. What is it, only another 30 miles or so? Peanuts."
"But nothing. What's there to see between here and Kyoto? Nothing. You never hear anyone say, 'Let's stay in scenic Takatsuki,' right? Or "Remember what a great time we had in Ikeda?' We can make it home by sunset. Trust me."
"Good. Eat up, you're gonna need it. I figure we have another three hours of riding time ahead of us, and we're home."
Chris shut the atlas and pulled out the Stephen King book he'd bought the night before. At least he could justify its purchase now, and it kept him from talking to himself.
Once he was finished with lunch, he got back on the road. The route was pretty straightforward - follow the signs to Kyoto. There were a few times where the road turned, or he had to find a side road to follow, but it was not a great feat of navigation by any means.
"See?" That internal antagonist voice was back again. The Roland voice. "You've pulled this off."
"Not yet, I haven't," Chris answered.
"Okay, you've nearly pulled it off. But there's no stopping you now, right? You know where you're going, and you know when you're gonna get there."
The voice paused for a moment. "So...."
Chris swerved around a woman with a parasol. "So?"
"So what's this all really about, then?"
He stopped at a crosswalk and took advantage of the red light to get a drink from one of Japan's ubiquitous vending machines. "What is what really about?"
The voice snorted. "You know exactly what I mean. Look at what you've done: you've ridden around Kansai. If you had told any of your friends, anyone who knew you, that you were going to do this, they wouldn't believe you, right?"
"Probably not. Or they'd say something like, 'You're kidding,' or 'I don't think I heard you right....'"
The voice laughed. "Right. You committed to doing something physically difficult and you did it. Now, what would your friends have said if you announced that you were going to, let's say, write a new story?"
Chris narrowed his eyes. He had an idea where this was going. "Probably nothing too exciting. They'd wish me luck, if they even took notice of it at all."
"Right. Why is that?"
"Because they know I can do it."
Chris backpedalled the bicycle as it went down a hill. "And they don't know I can do this."
He could almost hear the other voice's fingers snap. "Exactly. So. Tell me. What makes writing a story harder than what you're doing now?"
"Or drawing, or doing anything creative and interesting that you like to do but, I notice, you haven't done for some time. Are those things more or less physically demanding than cycling around Kansai?"
Chris stopped for another drink. "Is that what this has all been about?" he asked.
"What do you think?"
"I think.... I think I need to think about this a little." He took a right turn, following a sign that promised a temple one kilometer away. Soji temple. By this time, he was nearly due another sit-down break, and a temple seemed like a good place for it.
Soji temple was one of the thirty-three temples on the Kansai Pilgrimage, as he discovered. He had already been to two of them, Nanendo, in Nara (number 9) and Kiyomizudera, in Kyoto (number 16). He got his temple book stamped, giving him only thirty more temples to go....
He wandered around the temple and took some pictures. There were buddha statues and altars, as well as a small hall with hundreds of buddha statuettes inside. It was quiet and peaceful, so he sat in the shade for a while, took off his pack and tried to think.
It was true. This trip was the most physically demanding thing he'd done since coming to Japan, and it was pretty well out of character for him. It was something that most folks wouldn't have expected him to try, much less succeed at, and yet he'd done it. But what about the things he'd proven he could do? It was true, he hadn't done anything creative or expressive recently. He wanted to believe it was just a slump, but that nagging, worrying part of him feared that it was a symptom of something greater. That he'd used up whatever he'd had before, his creative energies had ebbed, and that all he could expect from that part of his mind was, from now on, a low and steady - and unchanging - hum.
The thought made him shiver. But the voice, the Roland, was right. What he'd done, what he was doing, was physically harder than writing a story, but he was doing it. It required more discipline than writing, but he was doing it. It required more time, but he was doing it. All in all, there was really no good reason why he should be able to do this bicycle trip without too much worry but crumble and give up when faced with a blank piece of paper.
"This will require more thought," Chris muttered, "But time to get moving on."
He got on his bicycle and headed back towards route 171. He got to the intersection just in time to see a guy on a scooter lose control of his vehicle and go skidding through the intersection and hit a guardrail.
From his experience in Japan, he knew that for minor mishaps - falling off a bicycle, tripping down the stairs and so on - passersby usually just ignored it. This was probably, he decided, out of a misguided sense of respect for the victim. To call attention to their own mishap would bring about embarrassment, and far be it from anyone to cause someone else to be embarrassed.
Fortunately, Chris was an American, and didn't really give a damn about who was embarassed. He swung his bike around and rode across the street to where the young man who'd been thrown from his scooter was curled up on the pavement. A man in a suit was there, and trying to deal with the internal stay-or-go conflict. It was pretty much decided when Chris handed the man his cell phone and said "Kyukyusha," the Japanese word for ambulance. The man took it, a little unsure of what he was supposed to do with it. Meanwhile, the driver was groaning on the ground. Chris didn't see any bones where they shouldn't have been, and the only blood seemed to be coming from scrapes on the man's arms and palms. Without saying anything, Chris gave the man his water bottle. The guy took it, wincing and shaking, but grateful. He rinsed off his cuts and handed the bottle back to Chris.
The guy in the suit was relieved of his responsibility when some employees from nearby businesses showed up. Suit handed back Chris' cell phone and waved in a way that seemed to say, "Thank you for trying to be helpful, you may go now." There were other people with phones there, and one of them talking to the rider, who had managed to sit up. Chris shrugged. He'd done what he could, but it looked like they had the situation in hand. Besides, with his level of Japanese, what could he do? He waved back at the Suit and headed down 171.
At the next vending machine, he threw out the water bottle. It wasn't until after he had done so that he realized why he had done it. There was blood on the bottle, from when the man had rinsed himself off. He shook his head. "I am such a product of the 90s," he thought as he bought a new drink. He hadn't known the man, or his blood. And one thing he had learned growing up was that mystery blood was to be avoided at all costs. A little paranoid, perhaps, and he wasn't sure if he should be proud of his automatic disposal of the bottle or disappointed.
And so he followed the road. It wasn't difficult to do, although with the sun and the smell of exhaust, he did get worn out as he went. He stopped at one point just to take off his pack, and an old man started talking to him almost right away. Chris didn't understand half of what the old guy said, but he didn't feel like getting up just yet. So he asked the man for directions to places he wasn't intending on going to and just nodded and made appreciative sounds while the guy talked. He was nice enough, but Chris wanted some quiet. So, after a few minutes of this, he put his pack back on, thanked the old man, and rode a few kilometers down the road to a convenience store, where he could get a drink and a snack and some peace and quiet.
He was in Kyoto prefecture now, although he wasn't sure what part of the city route 171 would take him to. His map wasn't very detailed, and he figured it would either link him to route 1 or bring him to the eastern edge of the city. Route 1 would be preferable, but he wasn't sure how to make sure he was on that road. Whatever, he thought. Either way, I'll get there. But there was still a ways to go, and he was getting tired. Finally, on a bridge in Yodo, he saw Kyoto Tower off in the distance, and he never thought he'd be happy to see that thing again.
With a renewed energy, he plotted a new course. Heading northeast, past the racecourse, would take him to route 1. Route 1, in turn, would take him right to Toji temple which was, in turn, a ten minute ride from home.
He cycled on, past more of what he had come to expect on the major routes in Japan - businesses, construction, family restaurants and pachinko houses. Occassionally he veered off into the streets to get past old people plodding their way along or women with their parasols to protect them from the sun. When he got to Toji temple, he nearly cheered - here was something he recognised, something he could navigate from without the need for maps.
He turned left. The sun was setting, and getting in his eyes. He had stopped along the way to buy cheap sunglasses from a hundred yen store. They weren't great, but they were better than nothing. On Nishioji street, he crossed under the train tracks and continued onwards. The rest of the ride was automatic. Right, left, and right again and he was home.
Distance travelled: 48.6 miles
Riding time: 4:47:47
Elapsed Time: about 8 hours
He went up to his room and dropped his pack on the floor. Time for a shower and a change of clothes. He put his trip laundry in the washing machine and started to unpack his pack, but decided he could do it later. Priorities were important. He turned on the computer and ordered a pizza, the traditional celebratory food of long, grueling trips. All of this he did smiling. He was home again.
Later, clean and full and having taken enough ibuprofin to crush a small child, he opened his trip notebook. He'd made notes of all his travel times and the things he'd seen along the way. Good thing, too, because he had promised to write up his adventure on his site.
He pulled up the LiveJournal program, thought for a moment, and started typing.
"I don't know if this is going to work," Chris muttered to himself as he rechecked his pack....
So that's it. That's the whole trip. I'm still pretty impressed that I pulled it off.... Here's some final stats:
Total Distance Travelled: 141.16 miles
Total Riding Time: 14:09:53
There are more pics that I took that I couldn't quite figure out how to weave into the narrative, so here they are....
Turtle rising from the depths (Nara)
A pond at Horyuji (Nara)
Another building at Horyuji (Nara)
Part of the garden at Horyuji (Nara)
One of the halls at Horyuji (Nara)
A rather unusual ferris wheel (Osaka)
Creative punctuation (Osaka) - this one's for my stepfather. He knows why.... *grin*
Grand Kabuki Theatre (Osaka)
A redgular torii at the Mystery Shrine (Kobe)
A broken lion-dog statue at the Mystery Shrine (Kobe)
A smaller torii at the Mystery Shrine (Kobe)
Lead singer at the mini-rock fest (Kobe)
Lead guitarist. What else? (Kobe)
The perfect pair of businesses (Kobe)
The Toba Bridge (Kyoto)
Day Three: Osaka to Kobe
Again, the alarm went off at 7:00. Chris turned it off grudgingly, knowing that he'd have days to sleep in once he got home. He had managed to get a total of nine days away from work - half for this trip, and half to recover.
He got up and headed for the shower. N. made an annoyed sound in the other bed, and Chris grunted something back at him. It was that kind of morning. The mantra in the back of Chris' mind as he showered, growing clearer and clearer by the moment was, "Please don't rain."
When he was finished, and N. was awake, they checked NHK. It looked iffy. Kind of cloudy, but probably - probably - no rain.
While N. took his shower, Chris set about repacking. They would have breakfast before he left, but he wanted to be ready to go as soon as they were done. And just thinking about breakfast made his stomach growl, so he waited for N. to finish up in the shower, tapping his foot and chewing his nails.
Breakfast was... dissapointing. More of the watery eggs and bland sausages. He ate a plateful of food, but couldn't muster up the ambition to go up for more. Instead, he and N. talked about their plans for the day. N. was going to do some shopping, and Chris was, of course, heading to Kobe.
With his new digital camera, N. was determined to get some pictures of Chris before he took off. They were the standard shots - by the elevator, by the bike, ready to leave.... Chris only hoped that he would look rugged or something, rather than a total wannabe cyclist. No, wait, he'd need the bicycle pants and the super-aerodynamic helmet for that....
Outside the parking garage, they parted ways. It was a reminder again of where they were and who they were - any straight couple would have had a hug or something, but there would be none of that here. And, given Japanese social customs, there was not even a handshake.
The weather was better than Chris expected. It was cool and cloudy, with no rain. In addition, the roads were almost empty. If you wanted to ride through a city, you couldn't do better, he discovered, than Osaka at 8:30 AM on a Sunday morning. Most of his ride through the city center was unimpeded by traffic, and he only stopped when he saw an unusual building.
The first goal for this leg of the journey was to get across the Yodogawa, the giant river that runs north-south through the city. Planning it in the atlas, it looked quite easy. How hard could it be to cross a river that obvious and that large - almost 3/4 of a mile across? All you had to do was go south a little and then west. Right?
As it turned out, it was harder than he thought. Yes, the trusty compass led him in the right directions, but Osaka conspired against him. The city he lived in, Kyoto, was a nice, orderly city, full of north-south and east-west streets, with the occasional diagonal. It was a planned city from the beginning, and the planners were going for order and civility.
Osaka couldn't care less about order and civility. Streets seemed to twist under Chris' wheels, leading to dead ends and leading past, but never connecting to, the places he wanted to go. This is not to say that he had an entirely bad experience. He discovered, for example, that there was a pedestrian tunnel that went under the Ajikawa river. He also discovered that he had reached a certain level of Japanese proficiency that made him feel like a little less of a slacker: he could ask for directions.
The clerk at the Lawsons convenience store was more than happy to show Chris how to get across the Yodogawa. The only trouble was, Chris had ridden off his map. No big deal, the clerk said (possibly). He grabbed a sheet of paper and drew a map of his own, telling Chris that if he wanted to get to Kobe, all he had to do was follow route 43. That's all there is to it.
Grateful, and a little surprsed, Chris set out to find route 43. And he did. Being another major national roadway/superhighway, it was rather difficult to miss. He grabbed the sidewalk that ran alongside it and headed west, towards Kobe.
That was pretty much the extent of his navigation. For another 15 miles, all he had to do was follow the road. There were some diversions, certainly. Like the shopping plaza where he stopped for lunch that seemed to be hosting a flea market. Or the nameless shrine he ran into, which had the first black torii that he'd ever seen. To be fair, the shrine probably did have a perfectly good name. It's just that, between Osaka and Kobe city, he had no detailed maps, so everything was pretty much just guesswork. All he had to do was follow the signs and follow the traffic.
The creation of elevated expressways, he decided, were a blight. A tragic thing. At one point, he stopped to take a good look at them. They blocked out the sky. Route 43 stretched forever behind him and forever in front. And the sad thing was, that probably nobody noticed the wonderful scenery that lay in the mountains just past it.
Of course, this was all because Chris was riding a bicycle. Had he been going to Kobe by car, he probably would have been more than happy to drive on that elevated freeway, avoiding the traffic lights and crazy cyclists all the way in. It was hypocritical, but at least he could acknowledge his hypocracy.
But, by and large, the trip from Osaka to Kobe, once he got past the Yodo river, was pretty easy. Mostly flat, with a few overpasses and ramps that you had to walk your bike up, but nothing too jarring. Nothing like the routes on the first two days.
By and large, he was feeling good. About the trip, and especially about not trying to quit out of it. "There you go," he said to himself. "You've kept your word. Feel better?"
"No problem, buddy. It's what I'm here for."
Chris was aware that talking to himself while he rode was probably indicative of some sort of neurosis, but he paid it no mind. It would come in handy at times.
There were a few breaks in the monotony of route 43. At Nishinomya Shrine there seemed to be a festival going on. Exactly what kind of festival, he wasn't sure, but there were a lot of children and a lot of food vendors and a lot of noise and reveling, and it was getting on Chris' nerves. So he got on his bicycle and took off.
The second diversion was also unexpected: Koshien Stadium. Chris had always known that Koshien was the home of the Hanshin Tigers - when they weren't letting the high school baseball championships use the grounds, thus sending the Tigers into a losing streak for three weeks - but he hadn't imagined it to be this far from Osaka. Not even in Osaka prefecture, even. And yet here it was, a fair distance from its fiercest fans.
It was an old-style stadium, the kind that large corporations in the US were trying to demolish and rename. It had walls densely covered in ivy and narrow doors and probably uncomfortable seating. It was a traditional stadium, the likes of which were fading from this world. He took a lap around the building and admired it. And wondered how much longer it would stay.
From Koshen it was just west, west and more west. When he finally got into Kobe city, the signs all pointed towards Sannomiya, the central hub of the city, and he just followed those. The excitement of actually having to look at his map again, to find the hotel, gave him a renewed burst of energy.
The hotel was called the Kua House - more or less. The name was written in katakana and sounded strange. It was a combination hotel and public bath that looked like an unfinished parking garage. When he approached, he saw a long line of people in front of it. "The hell's going on?" he asked himself. He had no immediate answer.
There were a dozen people with water bottles, filling them from taps in the hotel's outside wall. People had five-gallon jugs to fill up. They brought carts of empty soda bottles and were waiting in line to fill them up with hotel water.
After a few minutes, he came to a conclusion: this hotel must actually have a spring underneath it. There were many places around Japan that had genuine springs, but they were usually located off in some serene part of the country where you could relax and enjoy natural beauty. Not in the middle of a city like this. But there they all were, filling up like New Englanders before a blizzard. Chris just shook his head and went to find lunch.
He had time to kill before he could check into the hotel, so he went across the street to a small cafe. He'd had good luck with the one on his way from Nara, so he was hoping for the same here. Again, he encountered some katakana oddity. Sounding it out, he could have sworn that the name of the cafe was "Blue Jew," but perhaps there was a nuance he was missing.
Like the last one, the place was pretty quiet, although they didn't give him quite the hairy eyeball that the other place had. Kobe was a port city, and famous for its cosmopolitan outlook. There was no place in Kansai more international, people said, than Kobe.
Chris sat down and ordered the hamburg lunch set. This concept had surprised him a bit at first, but he'd grown used to it over the years. In the beginning, when he saw the word "hamburg," he expected what any American would expect - a hambuger. But in Japan, hamburgers were pretty much the exclusive province of fast-food restaurants. Instead, cafes served the hamburg on a plate with some kind of sauce, usually accompanied by a small salad, a twist of pasta and a bowl of rice.
It was better than most people expected.
He ate a leisurely lunch, making notes in his notebook about things he'd want to remember - the shrine, Koshien, and the monotony of route 43 - and resumed reading his Stephen King book. He was on The Drawing of the Three and getting very near the end. This did not make him happy. Intellectually, he knew that he would be able to read his own copy of the next book, The Waste Lands, as soon as he got home, but the book addict in him wanted it ready and waiting. This was the same impulse which, when he was a smoker, led him to make sure he always had a backup pack of cigarettes on him, so that there would be no panicking, no break in the smoking schedule.
Not all addictions are to drugs, he thought. He took a moment to marvel that he'd been quit of cigarettes for nearly ten months. It had been easier than he thought it would be, and knew that, had he not quit, he wouldn't have made it out of Kyoto.
He finished lunch and went over to the hotel.
Distance travelled: 27.78 miles
Riding time: 2:59:20
Elapsed Time: roughly 5 hours
Now it should be remembered that the hotel was also a public bath, so they were essentially running two different businesses at one time, and trying to keep the customers seperate. This led to a byzantine set of rules that Chris felt he was always breaking.
Because of the need to keep men and women seperate from each other, some rooms were accessable by elevator, and some only by stairs. The building was designed so that you could only cross from one side to the other if you went to the ground floor and snuck up using the elevator. Still and all, it kept Chris on his toes, wondering if he had understood the front desk woman's rapid Japanese correctly.
He got to the room, opened the door, and wondered where his room was. When he had reserved the room, he knew that the place was, pretty much, a capsule hotel. The room he'd asked for, however, was a "capsule with a room." Well, he had the room, but where was the... He looked down. Ah, there it is. The capsule.
It was small, and would have been claustrophobic, if he was inclined towards that. But it had a soft mattress and a tv set, so he couldn't complain too much. And it was cheap. He put on the clothes that the hotel provided its guests for their use while they partook of the baths.
The clothes were a bit too small for Chris, which didn't surprise him, although it did make him a little nervous while walking up the stairs to the baths. He wasn't sure he was going the right way, but it seemed the only way to go. The last thing he wanted was to be yelled at by someone while wearing silly bath clothes.
He got to the baths without incident, though, stripped down, and went inside. The signs posted everywhere extolled the quality of the water and he supposed it was good. They said there were a lot of minerals. Well, there was indeed one iron bath, which was a deep and rather disturbing red color. And then there was the natural mineral bath, which made him think of sewer water, being so cloudy and full of unidentifiable bits. But people were bathing in them without a care, so he shrugged and joined in.
He kept mostly to the clearer water, though.
The baths were relaxing and cleared his head. He plodded back down to his pod and changed clothes for dinner. Rather than go out, though, he decided to check out the rooftop restaurant. It was pretty deserted, which meant that he got served quickly. He had a salad and some sausages and worked his way closer to the end of his book. The food was okay. Not thrilling, but okay, and the charge went to his room, which was an interesting new experience.
Having finished dinner, though, he felt that he should go out and see a little of this city that he had worked so hard to get to. So he left the hotel and went, on foot, towards Sannomiya station. It was here that he discovered why people always said that Kobe was "alive."
There were people walking around everywhere, and they all had a kind of energy to them. Kyoto people tended towards dignity in their carriage, while Osaka people were generally down to earth. The people in Kobe, though, had a singular vivacity to them which reaffirmed what Chris had decided last time he was in the city: if he had to live anywhere else in Japan, it would be here.
There was a small rock music fest outside JR Sannomiya station, with live bands playing to a small but appreciative crowd. He listened to a few songs, clapped politely, and went to the tourist information center to ask about a bookstore.
The people there pointed him towards a small bookstore on the main shopping drag. It was a foreign used book store called Tokyo Random Walk. It was on the second floor, and had a fair selection of, well, everything. He beelined towards the fiction section and easily found what he'd been looking for - The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands.
As any other addict might do, he didn't even try to justify the purchase of a book he already owned just so he could read it right away. There was no question to it. If anyone asked, he could say it was for the new introduction, but the truth was the same as when he was a smoker: if he didn't have it when he needed it, he was apt to get very, very cranky.
While he was there, and noticing the good prices, he picked up a couple of the trade paperbacks of Transmetropolitan, a fantastic comic book series written by Warren Ellis. This was the man who he considered great not only because he was a fantastic writer of comics, but also because he had eagerly recommended Chris' sister's music to his readership of thousands. Any person who would make his sister that happy was worth the few thousand yen it cost to buy his work.
He walked through the crowds to get back to the hotel, enjoying the feeling of lots of people having a good night. It was a strange thing, really. Coming from a city that was rather steeped in the "traditional" aspects of Japanese culture, he had gotten used to a population that had hardened their external appearances, their "public faces" that protected them from the rest of the world. In Kobe, it seemed that people didn't seem to care so much, and let their real selves show through just a little bit more.
Being an international city will do that, he thought. Or maybe it was the earthquake.
After a leisurely stroll through the city, he got back to the hotel. He watched a "Hellboy" special in the lobby while getting his feet massaged by machines, and then went up to his pod. He tried to read a little more - it would further justify his purchase if he could at least get to the book before he got home - but sleep soon claimed him....
Day Two: Nara to Osaka
Chris woke up 7:30 AM and groaned his way out of bed. His legs didn't hurt as much as he thought they would, but they did still feel like two large wads of silly putty. Stiff shoulders, and a head full of cotton batting, but that was normal for 7:30 in the morning.
He took a shower and got dressed. Breakfast would come soon, but first the methodical job of repacking the backpack.
Over the years, he had noticed in his travelling habits a certain tendancy to spread out. No matter where he stopped, or for how long, he would inevitably end up with stuff spread all over the room - a book here, socks over there, maps and papers somewhere else. He chalked it up to early psychological damage caused by having movied so many times as a child, a kind of unconscious attempt to take a place over as soon as possible, for fear of losing it. Either that, or he was just really messy. Either way, he'd have to reorganize the pack.
In the most accessable areas of the pack went his maps and notebooks. And.... He turned on the TV and flipped through to NHK, where they would probably be broadcasting the news every fifteen minutes. The forecast for Nara and Osaka seemed dubious - chance of rain in the morning, clouds in the afternoon. "Shit," he said, and he put the plastic rain poncho at the top of the pack. The poncho was ugly, and slightly too small, but it would serve.
Before anything, though, he had to have breakfast. Another Rule: breakfast is a good thing. In ordinary circumstances, he tended to hold off on breakfast in the mornings, but these were not ordinary circumstances. The last thing he or anybody else wanted was to collapse halfway along the way. "I had to cut my trip short because I got hit by a car" would be an acceptable excuse. "I forgot to eat breakfast so I blacked out and rolled into a ravine" was not.
The hotel restaurant was in the basement, and they didn't have him down as having ordered a breakfast. The nice young lady at the front desk had asked if he had wanted it, and he was pretty sure he'd said Yes, but apparantly not. So he forked over the yen and went to the buffet. As far as hotel breakfasts went, it wasn't too bad. Not thrilling by any means - the eggs were viscous and the bacon soft - but good enough to get him started on the road. He planned his route while he ate.
The biggest problem with going from Nara to Osaka was this big-ass mountain in between them. Mount Ikoma. 2,106 feet. Now, this was not as impressive as the 6,000 foot Mount Washington that he climbed oh-so-long ago, but it was still something to be considered. The question before him was this: would he try to go over Mt. Ikoma, which would be a shorter, but infinitely harder route, or take the longer, easier way through the mountain pass in the south? Both ideas had their merits, of course. Going over the mountain would certainly bring bragging points for sheer damn manliness, something that he'd occassionally been accused of overlooking. It could also make his heart explode in his chest, thus ending the trip right quick.
He hemmed and hawed over coffee and then decided - the southern route. It wasn't as impressive as going over the mountain, but the logic was this: it was supposed to be a vacation, not an endurance trial. Therefore, the southern route. If the map held true, finding the mountain pass would be pretty simple - head southwest until encountering the town of Oji. There, he would find a river and some train tracks. Follow those, and he'd have a clear way out of the mountains.
A plan in mind and his bag packed, he checked out of the hotel, hopped on his bike and started cycling down Sanjo street to the west.
After fifteen minutes, it started to rain.
Not that hard, blinding rain that wiped out roads but vanished after an hour, no. It was the autumn rain that had finally followed him from Albany. The misty, there-but-not-there rain that could go on all day, never bad at any one time, but creating a cumulative effect that would eventually drive men mad.
This did not have a good effect on his mood. Mainly because of a nasty little no-win situation he found himself in, caused by his sunglasses. Chris' eyes were very sensitive to sunlight, and whether it was physiological or psychological, sunglasses were necessary in the daytime, even in cloudy weather such as this. It was cloudy enough that the sun wasn't too strong, true, but the light was still bright enough to cause problems. So he wore the sunglasses. Which, in turn, became rain-spattered and impossible to see out of. So he would take off the sunglasses and squint, but then the rain would get into his eyes, another thing his eyes wouldn't tolerate. They were remarkably touchy organs, slamming shut at any sign that anything might touch them, including standard eye drops, which no one could understand.
And so it went. The main route that he wanted to take, route 25, turned into a superhighway thing again, so he found himself twisting through farms and little back roads, trying to figure out where he should go. At one point, the sidewalk became a bike trail, marked with green asphalt. He wasn't sure if it was taking him the best way, but it seemed like southwest and it was one less thing to worry about.
Which was good, because he was already worrying about enough. When he'd started out on this trip, he knew there would be no way back to Kyoto other than to ride. The train wouldn't allow him to take the bicycle on unless it was in a special bicycle bag and he paid for an additional ticket. A taxi was financially out of the question. He could ask his boyfriend to drive down and pick him up, but that would be the mark of a real wuss. So whatever happened, the only thing to do was to keep going. Problem was, he wasn't happy doing it.
As the rain slowly made him wetter and more uncomfortable, he thought about his obligations on this trip. He had told plenty of people of his plans, and if he stopped now, he'd feel like a right jackass for doing so, to say nothing of being a soft little girly-man pussy who couldn't follow through. At least, that's what the voice in the back of his head kept saying. This was the voice that tended to pop up when he was doing strenuous things like riding or hiking, and lately he'd been calling the voice "Roland," mainly because of the Dark Tower books he'd been reading.
Roland had no patience for whiners and people who couldn't follow through on their promises. Roland didn't care for people who chickened out. And so he became the voice arguing for continuance. The voice saying that there was nothing Chris could do but go on, and keep going. If it rained, it rained, and that was just too bad. But if he stopped....
Right before Chris began to drive himself crazy, he stopped at a temple to take a break and clear his head. Lucky for him, the temple was Horyuji.
Up against the mountains, Horyuji boasted the oldest wooden buildings in the world. It had been a temple for well over a thousand years, and looked remarkably well-preserved. Chris' first thought was to find the toilets.
He did, and as he zipped up, he heard a temple bell tolling. It was loud and clear and coming from nearby. So he followed the sound, a resonant hum that seemed to go on forever, up some stairs to a smaller building with a bellhouse. The monk would strike the bell and then just wait. The bell's sound rolled over the temple grounds, and was eventually replaced by a kind of low hum. Chris counted the seconds on his fingers. The hum of the bell went on for a full minute after it was struck, at which point, the monk would hit it again. It was nice. Soothing, even. Perhaps the rest of the temple would be as nice.
Despite the rain, there were other tourists there, but not too many. There seemed to be a group of tour guides in training who were getting the rundown on the temple. It was all nice and peaceful, and there were good photographs to be had. The fact that the five-storied pagoda, a traditional building in many temples, looked odd suggested that he was becoming more familiar with the standards of Japanese temples than he'd expected to be. Most pagodas that he had seen before had a slight inwards angle to their sides, but this one seemed more pronounced. Possibly because it was the oldest five-storied pagoda in Japan and thus not in line with the others, standards-wise, or possibly because he was standing too close. The world may never know.
It was a nice temple, and despite the rain, he felt himself relaxing. The only thing he needed to do was to get a stamp in his temple book.
The temple book was something to the serious temple-hoppers did. It was an accordion-fold book with heavy pages that you'd bring with you whenever you went to a temple. Most of them would, for 300 yen, stamp a page of the book and write the name of the temple in brush calligraphy. Chris had some to think of it as a sort of Buddhist version of Pokemon - gotta catch 'em all and all that. Already he had stamps from many of Kyoto's most famous temples, and he knew he probably wouldn't get another chance at Horyuji.
The building where the stamps could be bought looked like a small shrine. He had to take his shoes off and enter a small tatami room that resembled an altar - there were gold and crimson tapestries, Buddhist statues and offerings and incense hanging in the air. He felt uncomfortable going in. Having been brought up Catholic, it felt like going up to the altar with no good reason to do so. But the monks waved him in, and while one of them stamped his book, Chris bought a small charm from the other one. This charm was for "Safety Travel," as everyone said. The grammatical error made him wince every time he heard it, but he figured that it wouldn't be polite to press the point. The charm would be tied to his bag and hopefully whatever gods goverened safe travel would watch over him.
With the book stamped, it was time to get on the road again. The rain hadn't really stopped, so he put on the plastic poncho and reisgned himself to looking silly. It was a white plastic thing, too small for him. Certainly too small to be snapped closed down the front, so it flapped out behind him when he rode. It didn't help much to keep him dry, but it did keep him warm, which would have to be good enough. Wet, but rested, he started on the next leg of his journey, through the mountain pass.
This was not the bleak desolation of the Uji to Kizu stretch the day before, but it certainly wasn't a road full of excitement and adventure. The best that could be said was that there was a sidewalk. Most of the time. When he reached the border of Osaka prefecture, the sidewalk abruptly vanished, and he found himself hugging the cliff face to stay away from more Sebulba trucks that hurtled down the road. Once the sidewalk re-asserted itself, he stopped at a convenience store to buy a drink and some hand towels. Then he noticed the small cafe across the street, and his stomach chimed in with a reminder that his body would like more fuel now, if that was okay.
He wheeled his bicycle across the street and parked it in front of the cafe. As he entered, he was fully aware of what he looked like: a large, dirty, wet foreigner with a large pack, a bandanna on his head and rain-spattered sunglasses. The effect, he thought, must have been unnerving. He didn't suppose that this cafe, down here among the mountains, got very many foreign guests as it was, let alone the lumbering daytrippers like himself.
But if the proprietors or customers had any sort of feelings about him, they tucked them away. He took off his gear, trying not to get everything wet, and ordered a hot ham sandwich. When it came, it was the most delicious thing he had ever eaten, which was odd because it was, basically, just a sandwich. It had spicy mustard, which was a good point, and cucumbers, which he hated but this time didn't even notice. Simply the act of sitting down and having some hot food, though, cleared his mind considerably. By the time he got back on his bicycle, it was still drizzling, but his point of view had mellowed a bit. Yeah, the weather was bad, but so what? He had come that far, and the way into Osaka city would be easy - just keep following the road signs. Of all the possible things he could be doing at the moment, this was perhaps uncomfortable, but certainly not the most difficult.
The rain slowed down as he reached the outskirts of Osaka city. The road he was on would take him into Namba, part of the massive shopping supercluster that is the Minami district of the city. The closer he came, the more crowded the streets got. It was a Saturday, after all, and everyone was out enjoying their shopping. When he got to the center of town, he got off his bicycle and walked it. Trying to ride through this crowd would only make him angry.
Here, for a moment, he had a feeling he hadn't felt in a long time, and it made all of what had come before worth it. It was the feeling he described as, "Holy shit. I'm in Japan." Having been in the country for four years, the strangeness of Japanese life had become more familiar to him, and seeing girls dressed in French maid bunny costumes only got one glance.
But here and now, surrounded by people shopping and hanging out with friends, standing in line for takoyaki and ice cream and loitering outside of pachinko parlors, he was hit with a reminder that this was Japan, and that no matter how long he stayed there, he would always find something new and different. Smiling for no reason that anyone around him could understand, he pushed north, towards his hotel.
Along the way, he saw one of Osaka's more popular sites - the Glico Man. Basically, it was a large, neon billboard, but for some unknown reason, it had become a local landmark. The year before, when the Hanshin Tigers looked poised to win the Japan Series, the Glico Man was dressed in pinstripes. Its proximity to the Dotonbori River may also have been a factor. The Dotonbori is probably one of the filthiest rivers in Japan. Despite this, when the Tigers won the Series back in 1986, Tigers fans jumped into it in a sort of drunken celebration. Not only that, they picked guys out of the crowd who resembled the players on the team and chucked them into the river. They had a slight problem in completing their lineup, though.
During that season, a major slugger for the team was an American, named Randy Bass. Lacking a suitable American to throw into the river, the drunken masses liberated a statue of Colonel Sanders from a local KFC and threw that in.
And thus was "The Curse of the Colonel" born. The Tigers haven't won the Series since. They came very close last year, though, and when they clinched the Central League title, fans jumped in the river, many of them naked, despite stern warnings from municipal authorites not to do it. Not being fools, the municipal authorities had tried to do some token cleanup work on the river in the weeks before, so as to minimize risk. Still, one guy died celebrating.
Let it never be said that the Japanese don't know how to have a good time.
Once free of the crowds, Chris kept rolling. His goal was a hotel in the north, the APA Hotel. City driving being what it was, though, and Osaka being a very distracting city, he wound up spending more time getting to the hotel than he had getting to Osaka. There were things to see and gawp at nearly everywhere he went. A building with unusual architecture and a top that looked like a castle. There were lampposts that resembled droids from Star Wars and even a rooftop model of the Statue of Liberty at the "New American Plaza," which may or may not have been a love hotel. While hunting for somewhere to eat, he was stopped by a random Japanese woman who asked him to help with her English. Many foreigners in Japan really disliked this kind of treatment, as though their only function in the country was to provide English lessons, but it had only happened to Chris once or twice in all the time he'd been in the country. Besides, the woman was asking him to correct the grammar in phrases such as, "The first group zombies and vampires are included in are monsters."
After a long ride through city and country, he reached the hotel.
Distance travelled: 36.14 miles
Riding time: 3:41:46
Elapsed time: roughly 7 hours
He was soon met by his boyfriend, N. The hotel room was, again, small, but it served their needs. It had beds, more complimentary yukatas and even baths on the second floor. Chris took a long-overdue shower and changed into much more comfortable clothes when his mother called.
This was unexpected, but a nice surprise. He had mentioned to her that he was planning this trip, but then he'd mentioned it to a lot of people, and didn't expect them to check in. They talked for a while, and he assured her that he was being safe.
"Are you wearing a helmet?" she asked.
"Would it make you feel better if I said yes?"
"It most certainly would."
"Then yes," he said. "Yes I am."
The helmet issue was one that he had wrestled with. On the one hand, it was an invaluable piece of safety equipment. On the other hand, it was impossible to find shoes that fit him in Japan, much less a helmet. Even in the States, he couldn't find a hat that would fit properly on his head and had pretty much given up on ever finding a helmet. He would just have to be extra cautious.
He talked with his mom for a while longer, and then he and N. went out to eat.
When Chris had planned this trip, there was one concern. Usually, he and his boyfriend met on saturdays, this due to their mutual incompatable schedules. Since he would be cycling around on this particular Saturday, and didn't want to come off as a thoughtless, selfish boyfriend, he thought it would be nice if N. could come down to Osaka and they could get together, which N. was quite agreeable to. They went to another yakiniku restaurant, this one much better than the one Chris had been to in Nara, and talked about the trip and how things were going. They stopped at a discount clothes store so Chris could buy a pair of pants to wear when he wasn't riding around, and basically they enjoyed each other's company for a while. N. was surprised to see that Chris wasn't exhausted from his travels, which surprised Chris even more. The night wore on, but he was still upright, walking and talking like a human being. He attributed it to the mysterious store of energy within himself that he could tap into when he really, really needed it. He used it on all of his hiking trips, to continue walking when all he wanted to do was lie down and let a bear eat him. He'd used it while cycling and while working long hours in unpleasant jobs and while flying 16 hour plane trips. Whatever this energy source was, he was glad to have it.
When they got back to the hotel, N. wanted to watch the Saturday night movie - Titanic. He had seen it before, and for some reason wanted to see it again. So he and Chris watched it and Chris spent most of the time making bad jokes about Leonardo DiCaprio's imminent watery death.
While they were watching the movie, it struck Chris that in eighty years there would probably be a World Trade Center movie along the same lines. Perhaps a young rich stockbroker meets a poor and pretty girl who works at the Starbucks in the lobby. They meet and fall in love, but their worlds are too different, until that one fatal day when they are forced apart by circumstances beyond their control.... Twice as many people died in the 9/11 attacks as died on the Titanic, and Hollywood has always been a sucker for romantic disaster movies. Chris made note of it.
With the movie over, they went downstairs in their yukata to hit the public baths. Bathing at night was the norm in Japan, and most people did it as part of their routine. Not only for hygene, but also to relax themselves from a long day. And so, the bath was busy. There were six or seven guys there, soaking in the large tubs. Chris and N. soaped up, rinsed off and settled into the warm water. "A side benefit to being gay," Chris thought. "All my straight friends can't do this with their girlfriends. Suckers...."
The bath took its toll on N., who was hit with exhaustion right away. He stumbled back to their room, and they were both asleep soon after.
Please note - I'm doing this write-up as a short story in the 3rd person, which may seem odd, but for this reason: I'm trying to practice getting into the heads of my 3rd person characters, something I'm notoriously bad at, and I figure if I can't get into my own head, then I may as well throw in the towel. *smile*
Anyway, here's part one of my cycling trip.... Enjoy.
"I don't know if this is going to work," Chris muttered to himself as he rechecked his pack. The trick was not to overpack, and he wasn't sure if he was succeeding.
The trip would be five days at the most, with limited laundry and space. In his head he'd tried to work out the number of t-shirts he would need and kept coming up with six, a number which sounded wrong, but for some reason kept coming up right.
"Let's see, if I change when I get to Nara, and sleep in that one, then...." He started counting on his hands. After a moment, he shook his head. "Stalling," he said. "Stalling does me no good." He cinched up the pack, buckled the buckles and zipped all the zips.
To the best of his planning ability, everything he needed was there - spare clothes, maps and hotel reservation printouts. Bandaids and ibuprofin. The temple book, in case he should find some, and the notebook, should he want to take notes. Camera, sunblock, deodorant, toothbrush, a flashlight, a compass/whistle/thermometer and two Stephen King books. He'd debated on bringing three, but figured that the two would suffice. His father had recently sent the final volume to the Dark Tower, and he was eager to get it started.
He stared at the pack. "Something's missing," he growled. "I know something's missing." He reviewed the list in his head and shrugged. The clock read 8:30 AM. Nothing to be done about it now.
Chris settled the pack on his back, checked to make sure the apartment was set (lights/gas/aircon off, trash out, veranda door locked), took a deep breath and left. Any more thoughts about what he might have forgotten were left behind.
The day was sunny and bright. "Fuck," he said, as he pulled down his sunglasses. "This is gonna screw with my eyes, isn't it...." He unlocked the bicycle, hoisted himself onto it, and began riding.
The bicycle was a gift to himself months earlier. It was, truly, a more splendid machine than he actually needed. Twenty-one gears, a digital odometer, shocks, all silver and black, and most of the time he used it for the fifteen minute trips to and from work every day. But occasionally, he'd take it out for exercise. Kyoto was a good city for cycling. It had two major rivers, lots of hilly sections, quiet back streets and busy main roads. It would be easy to speand a day rolling around the city, visisting places of interest, and he'd often done so. This time, though, he was headed out of the city to Nara.
He'd planned out the route, with the help of a bilingual atlas. National route 24 went directly from Kyoto to Nara. All he'd have to do would be to follow that road, and he'd be home free. Of course, he realized, 24 would probably be some kind of superhighway, and so he'd have lots of smaller tributaries to choose from. Still and all, it was a guide. So, first a quick stop at the ATM and then onwards in earnest.
As he rode out of the city, taking Kawaramachi street as his initial guide, he tried to notice the changes in the city as he went south. The main part of the city, the part he thought of as "Kyoto," was all north of the station. This part held all the great historical treasures that the city was so proud of, and would no doubt be what he always remembered of the city.
South of the station, though, it was pretty much like any other city. Kawaramachi just went straight south, past convenience stores and restaurants and small family businesses that wouldn't be open for another hour and a half. It lacked a lot of the character that had seemed to define Kyoto.
"This place is a dump," he thought. It seemed hard to believe that these places were in the same city that he lived in. He rode on, though, waiting for the end of Kawaramachi so that he could find route 24.
When he got there, the road ended in a T intersection, with not much to indicate where he should go. He stopped the bike and thumbed the atlas. Left, then right, if he was reading it right. He took the jog, which looked promising for a moment - lots of concrete and steel guardrails, but that only lasted for a moment. Once he was where he thought route 24 should be, he was on a small two-lane road.
This in itself wasn't unusual. The cross street nearest his apartment building was Senbon street. Go north a kilometer or so and it was a huge, busy, 4-lane road, packed with traffic and always busy. By the time it got to him, though, it was a little one-way street of no importance. It was a bit inconsistent for a main thoroughfare to actually be a local residential road, but not unheard of.
Still, there was doubt in his mind. Just to make sure he hadn't been reading his map wrong, he broke east a little. Just a kilometer or so to see if there wasn't a larger highway lurking over there somewhere. It would be just like Japan to have what he was looking for in a place that required just a little more effort to find.
The street was hilly and narrow, and led past a large hospital complex, but no route 24. He checked the atlas again. Whatever road that had been, it could only be route 24. It was at this point that he stopped to put on sunscreen.
One of the guiding princilpals of this trip was spontaneity - that only the basics would be planned in advance. In any case, it was at this point that he realized that it was rather hot outside, and quite sunny, and that if he didn't do something soon, he was going to suffer quite exquisitely for the rest of the vacation. So he pulled over in an empty driveway, took the pack off his back and went rooting around for the sunscreen. He got a few odd looks from passers-by as he slathered the stuff on, but screw 'em. They don't need it, do they?
"And that's it," he thought. "That's what I forgot." He got back on his bicycle and started pedaling.
For the most part, he had been correct about route 24 - when it stopped being a small street, it turned into a large superhighway. Not all the time, of course, and there was always an optional route alongside it for folks on bicycles or people who couldn't be bothered to drive on it. The character of the street didn't change otherwise. Shops, restaurants, a few houses, and the ubiquitous vending machines. When the street really opened up, in Uji, he was glad for the change.
An hour after starting out, he arrived in Uji city, the biggest city in Kyoto prefecture south of Kyoto city itself, but that wasn't saying much. Oh sure, it had a few things to say for itself - Byodoin, which was the building featured on the back of the ten-yen coin, and a nice fireworks show in the summer, but that was all he knew about it. And again, riding on the main road wasn't much to change his mind.
Sure, he could have taken little back routes, but that would have taken longer. This was an element of this thinking that he tried not to think about - the singular focus of his journey was laser-sharp: get to Nara. Side trips were permitted, but not encouraged. Pity, that. In his heart, he'd hoped that he would turn out to be the more meandering, "Let's see what's over here," type on this trip. It had to be admitted that, however he might rather be otherwise, this was not the kind of traveller he was. There would be exceptions, of course, but not enough to settle him.
He rolled on, trying to use the roads when possible, and staying on the sidewalks when it was not. The smell of hydrocarbons filled his nose and mouth, and he made a promise to himself that if he decided to do something like this again, he'd do it along a route with fresher air. He rolled past more family restaurants and car dealerships and convenience stores. If this was going to be it, he thought, then I hope I get to Nara really soon....
Between the Uji and Kizu rivers, things got different.
This part of the country was, as he would later think of it, "a post-industrial wasteland." It was mostly stretches of factory sites, storage depots and farms. Trucks thundered along the road at upwards of 50 KPH, making noises that reminded him of Sebulba's pod racer in Star Wars Episode 1 with their quickly thrumming engines dopplering as they passed him. In the back of his mind, he both cursed and admired his ability to recognise trivial elements from those movies, and spent the next half hour humming various themes from the movies.
In many places, there were no sidewalks, and he was forced to join the hurtling masses of metal on their high-speed roadways. With only an 18-inch shoulder and an 18-foot drop on the left, he wasn't too happy about this. The trucks missed him, probably with plenty of room to spare. But he could feel the wind of their passing and flinched every time, with images of his body being pitched end-over-end down an embankment where it would come to rest in some poor farmer's rice field. Avoiding that fate sharpened up his concentration mightily.
After the Kizu river, civilization crept in again, and the familiarity of the DIY stores and the McDonaldses relaxed him. Here there would be sidewalks and, more importantly, places to stop.
One of the Rules of Riding was that there would be a break every ninety minutes. Chris didn't know if the "real" cyclists kept to this schedule, but they weren't riding with him, so it didn't matter. He stopped at a convenience store and bought a drink and something to eat. The thought of what a "real" cyclist might do came to his mind. He had looked up a few sites about cycling in Japan, but they weren't very helpful for him on this trip. The writers seemed to disdain anything like city riding, and didn't offer many details on timing. So he made it up. Most of the Rules were pretty much common sense - keep drinking, eat light, pay attention to the road. Do those three things, and it'd be no problem getting anywhere. None of those high-tech, money-sucking specialy goods for him, no sir. Although, he thought as he shifted his position slightly on the bicycle saddle, there might be something to those bicycle pants. He wondered if they came in his size or if, as with everything else in this country, he was out of luck.
After 2 hours of riding, he arrived in Nara city. The system for marking the roads, by this time, made sense, and with his map and his compass, he thought he would be able to find anywhere he needed to go. That is, until the city's own signs seemed to contradict him.
Being an historic city, there were tons of temples and ruins and scenic places in Nara, and so the city had helpfully erected signs showing the way to go. Unfortunately, they and his atlas seemed to disagree. He scrunched up his eyes and tried to find the places listed on the signs, which pointed west when they should have been pointing east, but it could have just been his exhausion making things difficult. Yes, by this time the tiredness had set in. His legs, unused to such treatment, were sluggish and clayey, and starting up again seemed more difficult every time he stopped. What was more, his shoulders were growing tense and his hands were starting to hurt from gripping the handlebars the whole time. Disoriented and tired, he followed another of the Rules - if, after you've stared at the atlas for more than five minutes and you still don't know wher eyou are, ask for directions.
He chose a kindly-looking old woman, and asked, in his simple Japanese, where Todaiji was. This was Nara's most famous temple, home to the Giant Buddha, and it was near his hotel, somewhat. She blinked at him for a moment, and then, in a torrent of Japanese and hand gestures, told him. He understood the basics of it. Massugu meant "go straight, hidari meant turn left. He heard places he recognised, like Todaiji and Nara Koen and Kintetsu station, and all that was enough so that he could nod and say, "Okay" is a reasonable facimile of comprehension. It must have been good fakery, because, once she was done, she complimented him on his excellent comprehension of Japanese. As cultural norms dictated, though, he confessed that he wasn't really all that good, which is what he would have been expected to do even if he'd been utterly fluent. It was a country of humility, after all.
As far as that went, though, he thought as he rode towards the park, Nara does it better than Kyoto. Nara was the capital of Japan, such as it was, well over a thousand years ago, back in the Yamato years. Then the Emperor pulled up stakes and headed for Kyoto, which would be the capital, more or less, for the next 1,200 years. After the Meiji Revolution in the 1860s, Tokyo became the official capital when the Emperor moved there. 150 years later, and Kyoto people were, at heart, still kind of bitter. They had been the heart and soul of Japan for a millennium, and now the capital goes to this jumped-up little fishing village? They all know that the real capital of Japan, no matter what the atlases say, is Kyoto. It's just as well that all the government buildings were in Tokyo because that keeps them out of the way of temple-viewing.
The people of Nara, though, were much more mellow about it. They'd had a thousand years to get over not being the capital anymore and were content to be a quiet little city in Kansai with a really big park.
Thinking on all this, Chris pulled up to Kintetsu Nara station and stepped off his bicycle. He was there. He'd made it. The first leg of the journey was complete. He hadn't gotten lost, or hit by a car. He still felt good, if a little achey below the waist.
He had tried to do something he didn't know he could do, and he did it.
Distance travelled: 28.62 miles
Riding time: 2:41:15
Elapsed time: 3:15
He walked the bike through the shopping streets, looking for lunch. It was still too early to check into the hotel, so there was time to kill. Lunch was at Mosburger, one of the better hamburger chains in Japan. It took a while for your burger to get to you, but by Gods, it looked like the picture on the menu. He wolfed it down with the chicken nuggets and read outside on the terrace as people walked by. While he was reading, he kept thinking, "I really did it, didn't I?" Just the feeling of being there, of being in this city which he had reached under his own power was enough to make him smile.
After lunch was, of course, the neccessary Deer Time. The deer were a fixture in Nara park - more or less tame, and willing to be best friends with any human that possessed the little crackers that could be bought anywhere around the park. He had seen them a few months before, and they were pretty interesting. This time, a lot of the romance had gone off. Mostly this was due to the heat of summer, which had driven a lot of the deer to start rolling around in the mud as a means to keep cool. So, instead of magestic stags strolling around the park, there were these big, mud-covered beasts, many of which had lost their antlers already, lumbering about, nagging people for the little deer crackers. The only cute thing still going were the fawns, which were big enough to walk around on their own, but not old enough to appreciate the food potential of humans. Chris managed to feed one of them, but most of the fawns stumbled away at his approach.
There were temples to be seen in Nara, of course, but Chris' heart wasn't really in it. To tell the truth, he was tired. So he took a seat by the pond near his hotel and just admired the scenery. The pond seemed like a popular place - there was a group from a hospital there, as well as plenty of old folks and romantic couples who came to stroll by the water. And, of course, there were the turtles and the pigeons to provide everyone with entertainment....
Around 3:00 he headed for the hotel. It was a nice place, a business hotel chain called Sunmark. He had made all the reservations (with only a little help from his boyfriend) on the internet, so as to reduce stressful situations, such as learning how to ask for hotel rooms without a reservation. The staff at the hotel was very nice, though, taking his reservation without a problem. He was a bit surprised that he was asked for his passport number, but once he explained that he actually lived in Japan and hadn't looked at his passport number more than once or twice in the last four years, she got the idea and let him skip it.
As a business hotel, the place wasn't really built for luxury. The room was rather small, just big enough for a twin bed and some basic furniture. Other than that, and the lovely view of the parking lot, it wasn't bad. Everything was clean, and there was a complimentary yukata provided for lounging around in. Chris thought about stealing it, but his pack was full enough as it was. It didn't need anything more shoved inside. A cursory check of the desk brought a small surprise, but at the same time a feeling of comfort. All hotels were, basically, the same. And so, it was time to relax, check the sunburn and decide what to do with the rest of the night. The plan pretty much went as follows: shower, change clothes, and figure out the evening.
As it turned out, the evening was far shorter than Chris expected. For dinner, he found a yakiniku restaurant. The idea of going on a meat binge appealed to him mightily and he was positively drooling when he got there. The restaurant was empty when he arrived, which perhaps should have been the first sign. But he sat down anyway and ordered the tabehodai - all you can eat. He had a long day's worth of hunger going on, and intended to make them lose money. This place, however, operated a little differently from the yakiniku places he was used to. Rather than just let you pick what you want, they brought out a sampler platter with a little bit of everything. This was okay, except for the liver, but he felt a little put out not being able to choose his own food.
And then there was the music.
For reasons which, to this day, remain unknown, the overhead music was "Rock Around the Clock." Over and over and over and over again. Every time the song ended, Chris prayed for another song to come up. Something, anything but "Rock Around the Clock." But no, there it was again, and every time he would flinch. At one point, the staff did change the music, and he breathed a relaxed sigh of relief. Sure, it was Bryan Adams singing "Can't Stop this Thing We Started," but surely they'd fixed that little repeat problem, right? One of the staff must be savvy enough to figure out how to turn off the "repeat one track" function on the CD player, right?
No such luck. Bryan Adams began to repeat. And Chris understood the bitter, bitter victory of having found this restaurant - he had gained his desire for yakiniku, but at what price? As soon as he'd had his fill, he paid and left, trying not to look like he was in a hurry. If the staff caught his looks of confused pity, he didn't notice.
It was getting dark at this time, and the nightly Nara Light-Up had begun. Chris had picked up a brochure at the front desk of the hotel and took a look at it. From the description inside, it seemed that one would start at the pond with all the turtles and then follow a walking route to see Nara's most popular sites all lit up. half-heartedly, he walked through parts of Kofukuji and looked at the lit up temple halls. They had looked much better in the photographs and weren't really instilling him with a sense of awe. What they were doing was reminding him that his legs were sore. The stairs and hills of Nara hadn't done much to help that. So he shrugged off the Light-Up and returned to the hotel. His intention for the night would be to perhaps watch a little TV, read more Stephen King, and then get to bed.
He was asleep by 7:30.
For those of you who were waiting with bated breath to find out what had become of me.... Well, I figure there have to be a few, right? One? Anyway, I can imagine you all staring at your computer screens in anticipation, and thus it is so.
I spent the last four days cycling around Kansai. I started in Kyoto and went clockwise: Kyoto->Nara->Osaka->Kobe->Kyoto. The relevant totals are as follows:
Total Distance: 141.16 miles (227.17 kilometers)
Total riding time: 14:09:53
I'll do a longer write-up, in the form of a short story, later, when I'm not so dead. In the meantime, I just thought I'd keep y'all up to date on what's happening here....
Well, I'll be away from my computer for four or five days as I start my first time in a long time Vacation. If all goes well, it'll be a very good time and a good chance to clear my head. If it goes badly, I'll never leave the house again. *smile*
One of The Rules while on this vacation is no news, which means that I'll not touch a computer, no matter how much I may want to. So if you have to / want to get in touch with me over the next few days, use my phone address:
the-labyrinth-east at ezweb dot ne dot jp
Catch you later....
I just picked up my DVD box set of Star Wars. I'll be watching it over the next 24 hours, no doubt. I think this'll be the first time I've watched Star Wars in English in the last four years....
So I'm taking a week off at the beginning of October. No special reason, I just wanted to take some time away from work and the Routine and regular life. I grabbed a few precious vacation days and found myself with a nine day stretch of time off.
My trouble was, I couldn't think of what to do with it. Nine days. Nine whole days.
Most people would, at this point, grab a guidebook and say, "Look at the possibilities! I can go anywhere, do anything, the world is the ocean-dwelling bivalve of my choice!"
I think all that, and then I think, "But what if it sucks?"
I haven't planned a "get away from everything and just relax" vacation since the Poconos Spring Break Horror back in college. It was a mitigated disaster. I use the word "mitigated" because I did come away with some great stories and, as the saying goes, I can look back on it and laugh now. Granted, it's the kind of laugh that has people wondering if the scissors are out of my direct line of sight, but it's still a laugh. A rapid-fire exhalation of air, anyway.
Every other bit of time off that I have taken has either been planned by someone else - the hiking trips that Soulman and I took, for example - or wasn't entirely my time - the visits back to the US fall into that category. Since the Vacation Which Dare Not Speak Its Name, I haven't tried to plan anything for Me. Thus, the "But what if it sucks?"
Now I have a plan. It just might work.
But you probably wouldn't believe me if I told you. So I'm gonna wait until it's over and I can write it up.
Or until a better plan presents itself.
I just paid the NHK Guy.
Most Japanese people won't do this, but me, the Oldest Child, I do.... NHK is the national public TV station - there's no ads, the programming is generally crap, but.... There's a law on the books that says you have to pay a special fee if you own a TV that can receive the NHK signal. What the penalty is, I don't know. They take your TV away? They selectively block the signal to your house? Damned if I know.
All I do know is that the job of the NHK Guy sucks. No one wants to pay this little tax, and folks routinely wriggle out of it, Japanese and foreigners both. Everyone, it seems, but me.
I guess, after working as a telemarketer long, long ago, I feel sorry for the guys who have to do shit jobs that no one wants. I feel bad for people who are usually greeted with anger, irritation and duplicity when they're just trying to earn a living. And maybe because NHK has bilingual news and always covers the earthquakes and their educational channel taught me how to figure out Japanese numbers....
*shrug* Anyway, I hope this reflects well on my karma....
Well, today marks my four year anniversary in Japan.
Damn, where does the time go?
This has been a pretty good year, all told. I'm still together with my boyfriend, I'm still doing my job and living in a damn good part of town. I had a good birthday, and a nice cherry blossom season. The summer, while SWELTERING, was fun, with fireworks and temples and shrines and stuff, and even got into going to the sento regularly. Public nudity? No problem! I got to visit home and take a nice long vacation, and made out like a bandit shopping. Broke two duffel bags doing it, too....
It hasn't been all roses, though. My only drinking buddies in Kansai moved up north to Hokkaido, I got screwed for a raise by my company and had one computer crisis.
All in all, though, the good has outweighted the bad by a far margin. As I said to Soulman this morning, I wouldn't change a thing. This was an excellent decision, and my life has been a lot better since I got here.
So, a big thanks to everyone who's kept in touch while I've been here. No visitors this year, but I'm sure that'll change. Right? *nudge nudge*
I swear, not one minute after I posted that last one, another quake hit. This one made me nervous, the first time a quake in Japan has done so. Things hanging on the wall rattled, and I could hear the walls creak. The size and placement were roughly the same as the one five hours ago.
That one was not cool....
Again, I'm okay. Just a little shaken. Ha.
EDIT: It's very nice that NHK has tsunami warnings broadcast in English, but can they please, please correct the female announcer's pronunciation? It's excellent except that she pronounces the "oa" in "broadcast" like the "oa" in "toad." It's making me insane.
There was a fairly strong earthquake in western Japan this evening. Now before you get all excited, I'm okay. I felt a tremor while I was shopping, and it lasted for about 30 seconds. The strength of the tremor was sort of, "Hey. Is this an earthquake?" I looked up and things hanging from the ceiling were swaying. A few minutes later, the staff at the store got on the PA and announced that there had been an earthquake, but everything was fine. So I continued shopping.
In anticipation of questions, I made an image for you all to check out. It shows the relative sizes of Japan and the Eastern USA. For your amusement, I have spotlighted the rough location of the epicenter. Kyoto is the red star. Enjoy....
I'm reorganizing the photos on my homepage - arranging them into Events, Places and People (if all goes well). It'll make more sense than the way it's set up now.... Here's what I've done so far....
The long-awaited Biwako Fireworks!
The not-so-long-awaited Rokusai Nenbutsu at Mibudera!
A quick tour of Kyoto Station (trust me)
And a page for Mibudera itself.
Any troubles, let me know. It all worked for me, though I did have to hit "reload" once....
Well, first of all, I am now legal to work in Japan for another three years. Visa renewal here is absurdly easy. For English teachers, anyway.
My intention for the day was this: pick up the new visa, pay my bills and my city tax, maybe hit a local temple and then come home to bask in my air conditioning.
Five hours later....
I rode around the eastern part of the city and hit a new record of eight - count 'em, EIGHT - temples and shrines:
I came home and took a nice, long, low-temperature shower.... It was a long ride, maybe 12 kilometers - about 7 and a half miles.
And tomorrow morning, my boyfriend and I are going to Nara for more sightseeing and the extension of my photo backlog! Yay!
I'll keep trying to get my photos up to date.... Until then, here's a few to tide you over:
After all the excitement of the fireworks last night, I was ready to just come home after work tonight, hole up with my air conditioner and leftover porcupine meatballs and put together the photo page for the event.
Then I walked past my local temple, Mibu-dera. This temple has had some notoriety lately, as it was the home temple of the Shinsengumi, a group of shogun-loyal samurai at the end of the Edo period. State television is doing a weekly drama about the group, so naturally tourism is at a high point.
Anyway, I walked past the temple on my way home and noticed that they were set up for some event. "Huh," I said to myself. Once I got home, I started the rice in the rice cooker, changed clothes and went back out, grabbing my camera, just in case.
Turns out they were doing this performance thing called Mibu Rokusai nenbutsu. It's a drum and dance performance which, according to the brochure (helpfully bilingual), has its origins in religious rituals from the 12th century.
I always marvel at traditional Japanese music. It's different, it's interesting, but what always stuns me is that, despite its irregularity and unpredictability (from my point of view, anyway) no one uses sheet music and there's no conductor. It makes the myth about Japanese telepathy seem true. All the more so when you have two guys playing on the same set of drums and they never screw up the rhythm. I remember high school band, when we could have people playing completely different bars of music and be thankful we got that close.
Anyway, this was very good, except for the children running around and screaming during the whole performance. A mother showed up a couple of times to whack them upside their heads, but the kids didn't seem to care.
The lion shut 'em up for a while, though.
Kudos to the guys in the lion suits, who did some remarkable acrobatics in a giant orange wind sock. And I was a bad gaijin, rooting for the spider demon when they started fighting:
As with the fireworks, I took a hell of a lot of pictures and discovered that my camera sucks at night shots, even with full stage lighting. Or at least I haven't figured out how to make it not suck. Auto mode is too dark, and Night mode is too blurry. I wound up using Landscape mode for most of it, so if it's blurry, sorry. Just imagine that it's artistic.... I haven't put the web pages for this or the fireworks together yet. Sorry. In another couple of days.
In the meantime, I did put together a page on Kyoto Station for you. It has considerably fewer pictures involved.
Summer weather in Japan sucks, can't say that enough. But everything else is great.
There are many reasons to hate summer in Japan - heat, humidity, mosquitoes and cockroaches come to mind. But there are some things that redeem the entire season. One of those is Fireworks.
I told someone in the states that I was going to watch fireworks and he asked what holiday it was. That's the great thing about this country - they don't need a special reason to set off enough fireworks to destroy the world ten times over. Summer is all the excuse they need.
If you come to Japan in early August, you can find a fireworks festival near you. I went to the Lake Biwa fireworks with my boyfriend who, being better than I deserve, got tickets for good seats (except for the tree blocking stage right, but he couldn't have known about that).
The show lasted about an hour, and most of that hour was just me saying, "Wow." I've never seen fireworks that good in the US. These things go up and then explode in three different colors. Then, just when you think it's going to disappear, tiny colored lights flare up, dance around a bit, and then fade away. I saw fireworks shaped like happy faces and cats and eyeglasses. I saw displays that would be fitting for a "Grand Finale" back home, but here were just part of the show.
We were sitting with a hotel behind us, so we got a nice echo for the bangs, some of which were so loud that I could feel the fabric of my clothes move when it passed over me.
I took a hell of a lot of pictures, but it's late, so I'm only uploading one for now:
I'll put the rest onto a proper page tomorrow or around then. Right now I'm exhausted. Here's why:
Yeah. This is on the way to the train station, which was so crowded that we were moving at about one tiny mincing step per minute. In the interest of getting on the train before I had to go to work tomorrow, we skipped the station and my boyfriend drove me home. Bless him.
Anyway, keep your eyes peeled for the photo page. And be jealous. *smile*
Okay, y'all, check it out:
I put this together because there used to be a very good kanji site - Dominic's kanji tattoo archive - which posted, as the name might suggest, kanji for tattoos. But it's long gone, and someone has to fill the void.
So, this has two parts. One is an alphabetical list of English words and their closest kanji equivalents. So if you should want a tattoo of, say, "honesty," then you click on the word and the kanji pops up. Pretty intuitive.
The other part is a bit on kanji theory, how these damn things work. I think I covered most of the important points, but I'm not sure if I overlooked something that seems obvious to me but actually isn't.
So, please take a look and tell me if it makes sense. And if there's a word you want up there, let me know. What's there now is pretty much just from brainstorming....
UPDATE: Added a whole bunch of new kanji, including the solar system, some animals (wolf, crow, owl), the four classical Greek elements (fire, wind, water, earth), some metals (gold, silver, steel, iron, quicksilver) and a few bits of the Supernatural (ghost, giant, demon, devil, vampire, dragon, soul). Enjoy!
So I applied to renew my visa. It's pretty easy over here - go to the immigration office, fill out a couple of forms, give them the documents from your employer, and you're good. Now I just have to wait a few weeks for finalization.
In the meantime, nobody die or get married - I can't leave the country until my visa is approved....
Just roach-trapped my apartment. I found one of the little blighters in my room when I came home last night and was not successful in discorporating it.
Fun fact: Japanese cockroaches, when cornered, FLY RIGHT FOR YOUR GODDAMN FACE.
Anyway, I got traps and spray and a story idea this evening. The battle begins....
I just put up an alternate front page for my homepage, all in Japanese. Tough, that language. Sugoi muzukashii....
It's probably abysmally written. My boyfriend will no doubt laugh his ass off.... At least I'm making the effort....
This took forever to get set up.... You'd better enjoy it.
The Gion Matsuri Parade - writeup and many, many, many photos.... Have fun.
So I've been wandering around the festival the last few days, taking pictures like mad.
With luck, I'll be at the parade tomorrow, God willing and my batteries hold out, I'll have a lot more pictures for you tomorrow....
Well, it's hot and sweaty here in Kyoto, perfect time for the Gion Matsuri. The center of the city is shut down for the festival, there's people everywhere, vendors selling all sorts of carny stuff (including frighteningly realistic air guns - gotta get a picture of that) and general summer fun.
Here's some pictures, thanks to Photodump.com
After work, I went out for the Sixth Anniversary Party for Rocking Bar Ing, the best bar in Kyoto. No kidding.
It was held at another, much larger bar called Rag, which specializes in live music. And since Ing as a Rocking bar, it was a rocking party.
It was pretty much a "Who's Cool" of Kyoto, both gaijin and Japanese, which made me feel good that the master of bar Ing, Hako-san, had asked me to come. He's a great guy, and the perfect bar owner - remembers your name, your favorite music, never in a bad mood and loves to hang out with the customers. There were some very good bands, some very overworked bartenders, and lots of people all brought together by the unstoppable force that is Hako-san.
I went there with Matt and Jenny, met Patrick and Mika and had a damn good time. Unfortunately, I have work today, so I couldn't stay all night and rock out the way you younger folks do. The really fun part was bicycling home under the influence of scotch and beer. Fortunately, Oike street has very wide sidewalks which, at 11:30 PM, are pretty empty. And Senbon has no cars on it at that time of night.
So I came home, popped some ibuprofin and water and thoroughly passed out.
See? Told you it wasn't very exciting....
I'll say this for our government - it may be working its way to Big Brother-hood, but at least it doesn't mandate what we can name our children.
Then again, maybe it can. If I ever have a kid, I think I'll name it Lucifer Shitkicker Gladis and see how long it takes before Child Welfare comes knocking on my door....
I'm going to start a public health ad campaign in this country which teaches people that their health is more important than their English lessons.
Thanks to an overacheiving student with a fever and a hacking cough that kicked in every time she laughed, I now feel like my head's been stuffed with wet Play-Doh.
Okay, so I have finally seen Lost in Translation - thanks, mom. *smile*
It was pretty on target. Japan is a place that hits you pretty hard once you get here, and doesn't really let up until it's convinced that you're serious. Take the hospital scene for example - the administrator know full well that they don't speak Japanese but he went at it as though they were native speakers.
Sounds familiar, really.... I think the film really does manage to bring forth the... disconnect that you have when you get here. There's something to see everywhere, and you're not sure what you're supposed to be paying attention to - the neon, the noises, the screaming politicians....
There are differences between my experiences and those of the characters, of course. They knew they were going home, so there's less of a need to absorb everything when you're in that situation. When you know you're going to stay, it's a little different. You see all this stuff that visitors are able to shrug off as "weird" but which you think you're coing to have to come to terms with eventually.... If that makes any sense.
Anyway, cool film. The Kyoto scene was nice. A little background for you - she visits two temples in Kyoto. The first is Nanzen-ji, one of my favorite temples in Kyoto, and the second (from the stepping-stones shot) is Heian Shrine, another lovely temple with a fantastic garden. Both of them come highly recommended if you stop by this city.
Also, the TV show that he's on - Matthew's Best Hit TV - is real. I've seen it a few times, and it's just like it looks in the movie. The bit that he's about to do before he shuts off the TV (where he's standing behind a box covered in red cloth) is a bit where he has to stick his hands through two holes in the side, feel around, and guess what's in the box. The audience can see it, of course, and it's hilarious. Especially when there's a tarantula in there. The full show is on the DVD and it's weirder than anything you'll see on US TV.
At least, I think so. I haven't seen US TV in a while....
So, for all of you who asked if I'd seen the movie, now you know. And know that it's all true. All of it.
Came back from Osaka today. It was quite a good time, I must say.... Did a lot of walking and a lot of shopping and a bit of drinking and more walking.
I set up some photos on my homepage - check 'em out.
As much as it may surprise you, there is an Outback Steak House in Osaka, and it's good. Damn good. MMmmmmmm.... Beef. Australian beef, I believe. *shrug*
And my boyfriend bought me a very natsukashii present:
Wow. I've been transported back to my youth.... We found this place that deals in import DVDs from all over the world, which was quite the treasure trove. I would have gotten Noises Off, if they'd had it in stock. I was quite vocally disappointed and may have scared the clerk....
Osaka is an interesting city, much different from Kyoto. It's... faster. Denser. Noisier. Probably because we were there on the weekend, but there were people everywhere, and none of them seemed willing to acknowledge the existance of anyone else. I'm glad I got such good practice with playing video games - I was able to dodge the crowds rather well....
In the middle of it all is Osaka Castle, a place I recommend if you're in the city. There's a huge park built up around the castle, which includes a a performing arts center, dirt parks for baseball and whatnot, trees and grass and chirping birds.... It's a cool place. While we were there, there were four or five bands lined up near the entrance to the park, all of them playing as loudly as they could.
The word of the day was, "cacaphony." Creepy.
And I spent my second birthday in Japan at Physique, a little gay bar in Osaka that I go to whenever I happen to be in town. If you happen to drop by, tell Hideki that I sent you.
We also went to the HUGE Yodobashi electronics store in Umeda, where I bought a new DVD/CD-Rom thingee. And I installed it myself! I'm so proud.... And we went bowling - I trounced my boyfriend in 3 out of 4 games and actually broke 100 a few times! Amazing....
All in all, it was a good weekend, and a good birthday. And there's still one more day off to go.... So I'll sit here and eat Cheez-Its and watch V.
All is good....
So I decided to go for the expensive haircut option. What I got was pretty much the same thing I would have gotten at the cheap place, but with a very nice shampoo, a shoulder massage, and lots of Product to make my hair look like, in all honesty, an angry cat. Once I got it settled down, I was able to go on with my life. The girl who did my hair was nice, though, and kept insisting on speaking to me, which forced me to speak in Japanese.... I guess I did okay, with only a minimum of grievously ridiculous errors.
After that I walked to the lovely Kamo river, where I sat and had a green tea frappucino, a drink that is so good that, were Starbucks to limit the supply, people would be giving out hummers in the bathroom for it. Thus its nickname, "the green horse."
Then I did some food shopping, and found, much to my surprise, an awesome birthday present in the basement of Daimaru department store:
Note the embarassingly small size of the box. So I bought two.
Tomorrow I believe that I'll be going to Osaka with my boyfriend for a nice dinner at Outback Steakhouse, where he will finally get to eat the Bloomin' Onion that he's been lusting after for some time now. Go figure....
So I have a nice four day weekend here, conveniently timed for my birthday. Not sure what I'll be doing - I think I'm making it up as I go along.
So last night, after work, I went to the sento and relaxed a bit. It was much less weird and stressful than the last time, plus it was ten o'clock on a rainy Thursday night, so there were fewer people.
Today, a leisurely breakfast and some Invader Zim ("It's not stupid - it's advanced!") Next, a haircut. I'm not sure if I'll go to the really cheap 1600 yen place and get a basic short-cut, or go to an actual salon and spend exhorbitant amounts of money on a haircut. It also depends on my ability to communicate what I want to the individual with the scissors....
We shall see. I'll keep you up to date....
I can't wait for my birthday. Four days off. And I'm not sure what my plans will be - maybe a weekend in Osaka with my boyfriend, maybe something else. I do know one thing, though - it will be a total news vacation. No internet news, no newspaper, no TV news, no cell phone, no nothing. At this point, I've had just about enough....
So, today I did something that I'd been able to avoid doing for the three and a half years that I've lived in Japan.
I went to a sento.
To define: a sento is a public bath. It's a pretty standard part of Japanese life to visit the sento from time to time, and for people in really old houses, the sento is where they go every day to bathe.
Anyway, a new "super sento" opened up around the corner from my home. They've been working on it for months, and it opened this week, so naturally, my boyfriend, being Japanese and keenly amused by my discomfort, wanted to go.
Which brings us to why I'd avoided going to a sento for three years. I'm from New England. Raised in New England, actually. Born in Texas, which is something that, much like the Dixie Chicks, I'm none too happy about with regards to Mr. Bush.
But I digress. New England is where I grew up and where most of my formative years were spent, and I definitely took on most of the values of the area. And public bathing, getting naked with a bunch of strangers and then lounging in hot water, is not exactly a New England value.
So there I am, surrounded by naked Japanese guys. There were kids, old guys, and everything in between, and everyone was walking around as though it was perfectly normal. Which, for them, it was. I stuck close to my boyfriend at first, to make sure I wasn't doing anything terribly wrong. The procedure is pretty simple, though - wash thoroughly before you get in the tub, and don't put your washcloth in the bathwater. That's about it.
It took me a little while to get used to it. The nakedness aside, I was probably most worried about being the only foreigner in the place. I figured that either I would get in the bath and people would evacuate, or they would good-naturedly assume I spoke Japanese and try to have a conversation. Either way, I figured I would have to slink off and never show my face in public again.
I think the naked-stress was budding off other stresses, frankly. In the end, I did have a short conversation with one young man (in English, and, if I were more in control of my self-consciousness, I might have tried to talk more - it's good to try and meet people in the area, especially good-looking naked ones. *grin*).
Nobody tried to avoid the White Devil (or, by the end, the Bright Pink Devil) and folks, for the most part, didn't reall pay any attention to me. I think. I admit, I was pretty busy trying to look relaxed and not let my eyes rest in any one spot for more than five seconds.
It's a good place, and I'll go again. Once the alien effect wears off, it is sort of relaxing. Plus, the place has full spa services, massage, haircuts, as well as beer and food. And did I mention, it's right around the corner?
There was one low point, and that was my silly decision to try out the scale before I got dressed. 96 kilograms, if memory serves. That would put me at something like 212 pounds.
Please note, I'm writing this at 1 AM and I should be in bed by now. Plus it's been a rainy, ugly day.
As much as I am glad that I never have to repeat my teenage years, I do look back on them with fondness for one thing, other than the high metabolism. It was the utter certainty that, no matter what terrible, horrible thing was happening to me, whatever crisis I was embroiled in, whatever feeling or emotion, doubt or disbelief I was experiencing, I was the only human being in all of recorded history to have felt that way.
It's that glorious, ignorant selfishness that I kind of miss.
I bring this up because I think I'm turning 30 in a few weeks, and I think that the storm front of an Existential Crisis has just about reached me. I felt it coming a while ago - I quit smoking, I bought a bicycle, and I've been vividly aware of my daily food intake. I've become more aware of my lack of a social life and begun questioning how I relate to friends and family. The breeze was stirring the leaves, so to speak.
But today, slouching towards the train station through the rain, listening to the Lo-Fidelity All-Stars, I felt the first real indications that something was coming, something I haven't had to deal with since I was in high school and that I'd hoped I'd never have to deal with again. It's time, once more, to figure out who I am.
I seriously think it's the 30 issue, and this is where I get back to the "ignorant selfishness" thing. When I was in high school, reorganizing my psyche after band practice, I was utterly certain that I was the only teenager who'd ever had any kind of identity crisis. Now I'm older, and I realize that it's not only common, it's universal. Everybody gets twitchy around this time in their lives and starts to look around them and ask, "How the hell did I get here?"
So the inescapable question is this: given that everyone kinda snaps around this point, how unique is my predicament? Utterly not. Given that, how objectively important is it? Utterly not. Subjectively, it's of the utmost importance but, unlike when I was in high school and college, I now understand that just because I think something is critical doesn't mean that anyone else does.
So I'm of two minds about putting this up publicly. Part of me is doing it because I have to put this into words somehow, give these thoughts some permanence and incur some risk. If I just store them on my hard drive, I can later pretend never to have written them. Can't do that if y'all have read them.
The other part of me is telling me to quit whining and move on. This happens to everyone, and nearly everyone gets through it, and everyone's just gonna laugh at you.
But I don't want to just "get through it." I want to get through it right. Whatever I did to myself when I was 18 worked pretty well for a decade and a half. I now have to lay the groundwork for the next indefinite period in my life, and I really don't have the therapy money to screw it up.
So I am left with the questions that are utterly mundane in their conception, yet of the gravest importance to every thinking being: How the hell did I get here? and What do I do now?
Those are some scary fucking questions.
So I woke up this moring at about 6:30 and couldn't get back to sleep. So I did what any reasonable person would do - I went temple-hopping.
I saw four temples and one shrine, countless blossoming cherry trees, and rode in a circle around a quarter of the city in four hours, and then went to work. This is what happens when I don't get enough sleep.
Anyway, I took lots of pictures, and now that I have a digicam, you can see them already.
So click on the stone lion-dog....
Well, I had nothing to do today, and the weather was beautiful, so I decided to hop on my bicycle and ride. North. That was pretty much the extent of my planning. I picked a street - Onmae dori - and rode north.
And after a little while, I ran into one hell of a temple. If you come to Kyoto, I highly recommend hitting Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. Daaaamn. It's pretty labyrinthine, especially when you have hundreds of people who've come to see the plum blossoms.
I took tons and tons of pictures, which I've got up on my regular homepage, so go check 'em out. I just wish I could have figured out a way to put the smell up here for you. Every now and then, when the breeze was right, the scent of plum blossoms would slide through you. Really nice....
So after that, in a good mood, I decided to keep going North. I basically just kept choosing whichever road led uphill, changing gears where necessary. The nice grid structure of Kyoto kind of dissolves once you get up close to the mountains. Mainly, I was looking for some kind of "lookout point" from which I could see a panorama of the city. Didn't get one, though, and it was about 4 PM when my heart and lungs lept out of my chest, sat themselves in my bike basket, and said, "Downhill, asshole."
Who am I to argue?
Anyway, it was a gorgeous day. I stopped at a little bicycle shop to get some cycling gloves (the waffle pattern of my handlegrips had been etched into my palms by this point) and had a short conversation, in Japanese no less, with the proprietress. We agreed that I had cycled a long way and that the weather was beautiful. Then, I asked for, received, and understood directions to Senbon dori, the north-south street closest to my apartment. Huzzah!!
It's like I tell my students, it's the little victories that keep you going.
So go check out the pictures. Click on the big stone dog....
The Village People couldn't have conceived of this.
The voice-over, near as I can tell, says, "We like Japan, we like peace...." Can't make out the last part. This ad is playing up outside Shibuya, one of Tokyo's busiest train stations.
Here's an article from the Mainichi Daily News about it.
Now, if i join a foreign military, that gets my American citizenship taken away, right? Dammit, dammit, dammit!!
(now that I'm much more lucid....)
We had a farewell party for one of our teachers last night. It was endless fun, involving alcohol and, eventually, kareoke. It was a good time, really. The amusing Japanese moment of the night was when one of our number intended to order one large serving of sake appropriate for three people but actually ordered three large servings of sake (which we, of course, had to finish). So let that be a practical Japanese lesson to all of you: mittsu = three (of something) and sannin = three people. Don't get those confused.
Still and all, it was good fun, and it's been a while since I've gotten too plastered to know which way is down....
I'm madly drunk right now. Even typing this is an effort. I should have pictures, if Dawn cooperates....
Well, today I found Rashomon.
Historically, Roshomon was the southern gate to the city of Kyoto in the Heian period (794-1192). It's generally considered to by Japan's golden age, and a lot of what is now considered traditional Japanese culture had its genesis at that time.
In its time, Rashomon was beautiful, but then the Golden Age declined. I'm not so sure on the details, since every Google search I do for "rashomon" brings up either the Kurosawa movie or the book upon which it was based. Whatever it was, there were a lot of dead people. So many that, rather than dispose of their remains in a proper manner, they were often dumped at the Rashomon gate.
If there are any angry ghosts in Kyoto, that's where they'd be. I'll hang out there at night sometime and see what I can see. *smile*
Anyway, in its day, it was big and impressive, the main way that people would come into Kyoto. Now there is nothing left except for a stone marker from the 19th century, sitting in the middle of a playground:
Japan is really good about taking care of its historical sites - Toji temple is just down the road, and it's well over a thousand years old - but I wish they'd managed to hold on to this one.
The situation is pretty typical. People here walk down the middle of the sidewalk and somehow manage to take up the whole damn space. And they're telepathic - if you try to go around them to the left, they just "happen" to drift left. Try to go right and they drift right. I've wanted to throttle people on more than one occassion. Good for you, ooji-san....
I've discovered that some people have trouble imagining me with a bicycle. I think I understand why. I'm not really the "get outdoors and do something healthy" type. But, with the whole quitting smoking thing, I thought I should do something to back that up. So I ride my bike to and from work every day.
It's a nice ride, about 20 minutes. And I got a new bike with which to do it. The guy I work with who actually knows something about mountain bikes says that I picked one that gave me some "cred," which is always nice.
Here's a picture.
Yes, it's that day again.... Let me just say that I prefer Valentine's Day in Japan - women give chocolate to the men, often whether or not they are romantically interested in them. It's this wonderful thing they call giri-choco, which kinda translates to "obligation chocolate." So students come in and bring us Godiva and make all the teachers happy for a while.
Much, much better than American Valentine's day, which I can sum up with one picture:
And this link.... Brace yourself before you open this one....
By the way, I changed my mobile email address. So if you want to get in touch with my at any time and in any place, here it is. Just substitute the appropriate words for symbols:
the-labyrinth-east at ezweb dot ne dot jp
So mote it be....
I don't know why, but this just feels... weird.
Maybe it's because we, I dunno, nuked them.
The "history" section is four paragraphs long, and jumps directly from Commodore Perry's "opening" of the country to post World War 2, making no mention of the intervening 90-odd years.
There's just something... off about the tone. It's kind of like they know that they have to mention the war, but would rather not. Which is a remarkably Japanese approach, now that I think about it.
I note that the sole 150th anniversary event to be held here in Kyoto is The Art of Star Wars 2 at the National Museum. Not too shabby. I went to Part 1, and was like a kid in a candy shop. I'm stunned that my boyfriend would be seen with me.
"But you don't understand, it's the Millennium Falcon!!"
Culture shock is an ugly thing....
Anyway, 150 years. Huzzah. I'm reading a very interesting book now, though, which looks at post-WW2 Japan, and it looks like there was a lot more going on in this relationship than the official website up there would care to talk about, hydrogen bombs aside.
I think I've become immune to the effects of NyQuil. This is not a good thing.
*sigh* Whatever this cold was, it was a bastard. I missed two days of work off it, and ruined a perfectly good weekend, and I'm still not feeling too thrilled to be alive. Most of the weekend was spent in bed, praying for either peaceful sleep or a quick death. The former being preferred, of course.
I've decided that the worst part of being sick isn't the time dialation that makes you wonder if you're about to overdose on antihistamines, or the bags of crumpled-up kleenex around the room, or the appetite of a supermodel.... The worst part of being sick is that you can't clearly remember what it feels like not to be sick.
That's about as much coherant writing as I can pull off right now. I have to work tomorrow, like it or not....
I woke up this morning with a giant fat man sitting on my chest, carrying a little Wile E. Coyote-esque sign that read, "YOU'RE SICK!"
So, in addition to the righteous indignation, I feel like ass. I wasn't feeling all that hot yesterday, but today there was no question that working was out of the question. The fact that it's the day before my weekend is just a pleasant coincidence. Gives me three days to be infirm. That and my boyfriend is working this weekend, so I can pretty much cocoon in my room and not see another human being for three days. Mmmm...... Isolation.....
Well, I'm back from my whirlwind tour of the northeastern United States. It was a good time. I got to see family and friends and some people I haven't seen in a quite a while, plus a few suprises, like my randomly scheduled bump-in with my old high school friend Jenn.
I was cured of any ambitions to have a child while on this trip. Those of you who have 'em, God bless you but you're better people than I. I have problems with irrational beings, and kids are about as irrational as they get, I think. I'm happy being the Uncle - come over, spoil them and then leave. *grin* As I told my father, I have no idea how he and my mother managed to raise the four of us without throwing us into the river. Must have driven 'em crazy....
I bought far too many books and broke two duffel bags in the process. I ate pretty much every type of cuisine I could have wanted, including French/Japanese fusion. I got to see a hockey game from the executive suites and learn to carjack busses on the Playstation.
Oddly enough, though, I missed Japan after a while. Many things have become familiar to me, or perhaps too much in the States has become unfamiliar. I don't know any of the music or TV anymore or the big stars that people talk about. I'm out of the loop on a lot of news, especially the local kind. And I was suprised to see how confrontational people had become in the States. I got into more than one heated argument (and managed to avert disaster each time) over what I thought was just an offhand remark.
I'd heard about this before I came, this phenomenon of self-righteousness. Folks, some more than others, seem to believe that their opinions are inviolable and incontravertable, and that any attempt to question them is either foolish or a personal attack. I had to bite my tongue many times just to keep the peace, and l'esprit d'escalier was in operation full time. (l'esprit d'escalier is a French expression meaning "the spirit of the stairs". It's the phenomenon of thinking of the perfect comeback to another person's statement when it's too late to make it. What a great expression....)
Anyway, maybe living here has dulled my reflexes, but I really didn't enjoy having to be on the defensive all the time while I was there and wondering what words out of my mouth were going to set off a tirade. If I became a little quieter towards the end of my journey, that was probably why. That and the raging sore throat.
There was a lot going on. I'm eternally grateful to everyone who helped me out while I was there, and there are many more that I wish I could have seen. Next time, right?
As more things occur to me, I'll put 'em up. And pictures, too. I have some scanning to do, but the digicam photos came out great.
I've been doing some reading about smoking recently. Interesting book, one that basically tries to get you to quit by the Socratic method - you raise an objection and the author shoots it down. It's pretty good, and he makes a nice case for how to painlessly quit smoking. Hell, I've tried the patch and the gum and cold turkey and knitting, so why not give a book a try. I'll let you know what happens when I finish....
Anyway, the author says, repeatedly, and often in capital letters, that all you have to do to quit smoking is to not smoke. That's pretty much it. The rest of it is just mental gymnastics to get over the cravings and whatnot. The reason people tend to become smokers again after they quit is that they think, "Just one won't hurt." It's usually at a party or a bar, or during a very stressful time, and they figure that falling off the wagon just once will be okay.
Usually they're well back into the habit within a week.
Sorry, addiction. The author gets grumpy when you call it a habit.
Anyway, addiction is a nasty thing, tough to break. The US is, according to writer/illustrator Joel Anderas, addicted to war. Pick up his book, of that name.
War is very addictive, and it has all the marks of a drug addiction: it's not something you like to do or particularly want to do. It's dangerous and often deadly, and you would rather you didn't have to do it at all, but the idea of actually stopping is utterly petrifying. So rather than go through the change, you keep feeding the addiction and hope you can kick it in the future.
So it is with war, and, in the world of war addicts, the US is the kingpin. The Pusher. We are the Manuel Noriega of war. We get into it when we feel like it, we encourage other countries to do it ("C'mon, it's just a little anthrax, you know you want it...."), and we usually come out on top.
On the other end would be the ex-war addicts. The Swiss, Germany, France and Japan. They've woken up, more or less, and seen how horrible the addiction is, and taken steps to ensure that they never start the habit again.
Well, it looks like Japan has said, "Well, just once more won't hurt...."
To be techinal, they aren't actually going to war. They're sending troops and specialists to Iraq to support the Coalition. If all goes well, the troops (who are armed to the teeth, by the way) will never have to fire in anger or come under enemy fire. If not.... Well, two Japanese diplomats in Iraq were recently shot to death.
The Government, including Prime Minister Koizumi, is saying that, as America's ally, Japan is obligated to help in any way that it can, and that simply sending money isn't enough. I suppose they remember all of the criticism that Japan got during the first Gulf War, when they basically did nothing until the war was nearly over, and then they sent some money. The Jpaanese leaders consider it Japan's duty and an honor.
The people, naturally, are pissed off. I think something like 70% of those polled do not want to see the Japanese Self-Defense Force (SDF) go to Iraq.
Now, if you're wondering why there's all the debate, it's because, as I said, Japan is an ex-war junkie. In their day, they were about as gung-ho as you can get. They invaded most of East Asia, forced the citizens to serve the military, forced their citizens to learn and speak Japanese, abused women, and performed summary executions as sport. The Japanese Imperial Army was strong, vicious and passionate, filled with men who would kill themselves if ordered to or who would wait in a cave for thirty years for their superiors and never believe for a moment that Japan would surrender.
That's why China and the Koreas go apeshit if Japan even looks like it's going to re-arm itself. They're scared to death.
The Constitution of Japan, written by Americans, includes a "No-War" policy. It reads as follows:
Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.
Well, they've spent the last few decades wriggling around that little contitutional promise, rather like the ex-smoker who keeps a pack in his car, or the alcoholic who keeps a bottle of whiskey as a "reminder."
One of my students today expressed her disappointment with the go-ahead to send SFD troops to Iraq. She said, "I used to think that the SDF wasn't an army. Now it is."
The main purpose of the SDF was more like the US National Guard. If there was a national emergency, they'd be called in. Or if some of those nations which they had invaded decided to put the boot in, they'd be ready. And slowly, slowly, slowly - kind of like how I used to bum clove cigarettes off my friend Karen and still be convinced I wasn't actually smoking - it became a sort of "army" for Japan.
And now they're off to Iraq. Japan's having that "just once" smoke. They're pretty much only two ways it can go: they can either gag on the taste and remember why they quit, or they can say, "Well, that wasn't that bad...."
Addict to addict... I know how they feel. Good luck, boys....
Had dinner with Matt and Jenny tonight, at this little... lounge/restaurant near my school. I use the "lounge" qualifier because that's what it looked like. Plus lots of old men nursing their drinks and staring at pretty girls. Good food, though. Heavy on the garlic, which I'm sure my students appreciated.
And then I met them at Ing Bar, along with Mika, who's an old student from my school. She's studying in England now, but home for the break. Also ran into Jo, from New Zealand, who has apparantly taken up spitting at Americans on the street as her new hobby. I suppose I can understand. Some American guy she had a political argument with got all pissy and wrote a letter about it to the Kansai Time Out, one of the big English publications in the area. He says she hates Americans and she's a bigot and what all. He even mentioned her name, where she was from and where she lived, which didn't make it hard to figure out who it was.
So, spitting on Americans on the street. Understandable.
Anyway, it kinda felt like I had a... a life. Going to a bar, meeting friends and shooting the shit.... Good lord.... I think I need to lie down....
Got paid today, and with this paycheck, plus my cans o' coins, I am finally able to repay my boyfriend the money he lent me when I was desperately searching for an apartment. It took me nearly a year, but I did it, dammit....
See? I can repay debts, honestly! The Denny's Debt might be a little beyond me, but otherwise....
Getting some more writing done, even if I'm not sure what it is that I'm writing half the time. See the "Insanity is Contageous" link to your left for more details.
And it's mikan season now.... Mikan are tiny little oranges, kind of like tangerines, only a little different. Whatever. They're cheap as hell and they taste great. We have one student whose parents are mikan farmers, and every year they send her about a hundred of them. She hates the things, having eaten them all her life, so she donates them to us, the teachers. Can't wait for that day. Until then, I bought a bunch of them at the Sanjo market street on my way home from lunch.
I had to tell a student today that asking the question, "Have you gained weight?" is an invitation to a beating when asked of a Westerner. An American, especially.
It's actually a fairly common question, and I've gotten it a few times. Gods, that's depressing.
I still fit into the clothes I brought here, so I can't be doing that badly. Granted, there's a few paris of jeans that fit in that post-Thanksgiving sense of the word, but they fit.
The culprits are obvious, really - I have the internet now, and high-carb foods (pasta, rice, potatoes....) are cheap and easy to cook.
I did try running at one point (or at least jogging with high expectations), but I stopped because my knees fell off. So I suppose I should join a health club at some point. There's tons of them around here, and they're fairly reasonable-ish.
But first, I have to teach the students not to provoke the teachers....
Been having trouble sleeping lately, and I'm not sure why. For the last couple of nights, I've gone to sleep, and then woken up at fairly regular intervals throughout the night, which makes me feel less-than-rested. The time I do get to sleep, I'm gifted with some remarkably vivid, though not frightening, dreams. I suppose that's good enough, psychologically speaking. Studies have shown that if you dream, sleep deprivation isn't that bad. It's not dreaming that makes you go all wacko.
It's probably sleep apnea of some kind. I know I snore, and they are linked. I have no idea if I can get checked for it here (some men of the older generation still believe that athlete's foot is incurable, so I don't know how up to date they are on sleep disorders), so I'll have to find ways to cope.
Going to change a couple of pre-bed factors tonight, and see if they help. One, no Diet Coke before bed. High caffeine, this is a very likely factor. Two, no relaxation exercises. I've been doing a "white fire running up from the toes to the head" thing for a while. It's very relaxing and tends to put me right out, but it's often followed by the dreams and the waking-up thing. So I'll leave that out.
And I'm gonna heat up some sake. Maybe do some stretching. Those last two were advice from my students. Note to EFL teachers - it's okay to be tired as long as you manage to make it a discussion topic.
There's no real stress in my life right now. Except possibly for NaNoWriMo (link to your left). I'm supposed to start writing on Saturday and I still have no idea what I'm going to write about. Hmmm....
Wish me luck.
I bought my tickets back to the US yesterday. The last time I went home for Christmas was in 2001, and it was no problem getting the flights I wanted. I also got a really good price - 43,000 yen (about $350 at the 120 exchange rate we had back then). I called it my Terrorist Bonus, because so few people were willing to dare the skies.
This time was more difficult. Two months before Christmas, and I found out that the original flights I wanted were booked solid. The date I chose to leave, I got the last available seat on the plane. Plus, I have to return to Japan by way of Nagoya Airport, rather than Kansai, because all flights to Kansai Airport are booked. This is gonna suck....
Anyway, I'll be arriving back in the States on December 16th and returning on January 7th. The fun part, now, is figuring out how I'm going to see everyone I want to see. While I will have buckets of free time, not everyone else will.... Hmmm....
Ah well... It worked out last time, so I'm sure it'll work out this time as well. It had better....
I saw a cliche in the flesh today. There was one blind guy helping another blind guy walk down the sidewalk. They were both carrying white canes and it was obvious that neither of them was especially sure of where they were going. It became even more obvious when they walked into a parked bicycle.
Wish I'd taken a picture, but I have some sense of tact and a desire not to infringe upon anyone else's dignity.... Plus, the camera on my phone makes a little shotgun noise when I take a photo, and I figure their preternaturally good hearing (all blind people have preternaturally good hearing, right?) would catch it and they'd try to run after me and trip and hurt themselves or something. Then I'd start laughing and feel even more guilty....
So no picture. But trust me, it happened....
Okay, that title sounds a bit heavy. Basically, I was feeling a bit low-energy near the end of my day, and when students asked me "How are you?" I would say "Tired" and let things progress from there.
That is, until I talked to one of my students who teaches elementary school kids and had to do set up for the school's Sports Festival. This entails, of course, running through the itinerary with a bunch of little howler monkeys... er... children all day. So she had a good reason to be tired, not me.
It does take a bit out of you, though. Doing this job, you have to be an entertainer more than anything else. People here go through mandatory English lessons in high school and junior high school, mainly to pass the entrance exams to their next level of education. After cramming in poorly-taught classes (not one person I talked to looks upon their high school English days with misty-eyed reminiscence), they take the test and promptly forget everything they ever knew. At least until they come here and try to dredge up as much as they can.
Anyway, they don't want a repeat of high school, so it's our job to make learning English interesting. The effects of this are twofold: One, they learn to speak English with some degree of confidence. This is a good thing - Japan is probably the country in East Asia where you are least likely to find someone who can speak basic English if you need help while travelling, despite at least six years of mandatory schooling. Other countries may not have better speakers, but people are at least willing to try, which is what most Japanese are patently unwilling to do unless cornered.
Two, it's more likely that they'll buy more lessons from NOVA. Yes, I'm a ho.
Some students are really geared up to learn and talk, and these are the fun ones. You sit with them for 40 or 45 minutes and they keep you entertained, the lesson passes in the blink of an eye. They learn a little something, and you know that they'll jump at the chance to play with their new toy in the real world. Level doesn't matter here, either. I know some low, low, beginning level students who are better conversationalists than those high-level ones who can string together a future perfect progressive relative conditional clause. ("If I marry this month, that woman, who will have been carrying my child for the three months previously, will be my wife by the end of June." Okay, so none of our students can talk like that really....)
On the other hand, some students come because they thought English would be fun or useful, and it isn't - they don't have the personality to have a conversation in any language, or perhaps it's not as easy as they first thought. Or their bosses told them to learn, or their parents force them to come. These are the "It was a good idea at the time" types, and they drain you quickly. They don't even make an effort, really. Just sitting there across the table from you, waiting for some osmotic process to grant them fluency, they are the energy leaches who make you acutely aware that those 45 minutes are gone from your life, never to return.
The really tough ones are the people who try hard, but just aren't wired up to learn another language. Usually these folks are over 60, often retired, and started English because they needed a hobby. They try very hard, but - even though you never say it to them - they know as well as you do that they're never going to get much better than they are. The upshot is that they tend to be the nicest ones in the school. Ms. Tojo, Mr. Okamoto, Mr. Horigami.... They're terminal, but they're sweet people who just came to have a nice chat, and everyone enjoys seeing them.
Some of the tough talkers tend to be students, actually. They're still in the "I am a student, you are the teacher" mind-set, which is really not conducive to conversation. These are the ones who stand up when you walk into the room, and they have a very clear mental border drawn between you and them. They speak when spoken to, and are more concerned with getting the grammar right than just trying to say something.
The worst of these tend to be Kyoto University students. There's something about Kyodai.... Lots of science and engineering kids, and (like science and engineering students everywhere, I suppose) aren't too heavy on the interpersonal skills. So I have to retrain them, and force them to understand that I'm not really a teacher. I'm just some guy that NOVA hired, whipped three days of training on, and threw on the field. I am not a better human being than they are. I just happen to know my mother tongue and can teach it, that's all. I tell them about all the trouble I have learning and speaking Japanese, so that they'll know that I know how they feel. I commiserate, and try to convince them that learning English doesn't have to be a repeat of high school.
Maybe that's why the staff called me "Dai-ninki Chris" - Very Popular Chris. *shrug*
Of course, they don't know about the times when I form the perfect mental image of myself stabbing a student to death with a ballpoint pen, smearing their blood on my hands and writing, "THE car, THE car, THE car" on the walls over and over again until the police come, but I don't think they really need to know that.... *smile*
You may have seen news of major earthquake in Japan this morning. They say it was about an 8 on the Richter scale, which is scary-big. Anyway, I'm fine. Didn't even feel it. To give you an idea of how far away I am, here's a comparison map. The earthquake took place off the east coast of Hokkaido, right about where Long Island is on that map. I live in Kyoto, which appears to be down in Georgia.
So no worries. *smile*
I just watched Battle Royale.
Dude. This would never, ever show in America. Why? Two reasons:
Number one, it would completely freak out the straights. It's about a 9th grade high school class who are randomly chosen for a government program where they get put on an island and forced to kill each other until only one is left. We have shootings, stabbings, beheadings, arrows in the neck, hatchets in the head, you name it.
Two, it would show why all those who decry violence in the movies that they haven't quite got the point. I mean, they talk about how kids watch The Matrix or Natural Born Killers and then become homicidal. Well, this movie is much more graphic and upsetting than that, and it hasn't been blamed for any school killings yet. At least here when kids kill, people have a pretty clear idea why they did it: they're fucked in the head.
And it does happen. A couple of years ago, a 14 year old boy in Kobe killed a younger boy, decapitated him, and left the boy's head at the gate to his school. Just this year, a 12 year old boy molested an elementary school boy and pushed him off the roof of an 8 story parking garage. Does anyone blame movies for this? No, they just say, "Damn, dude, that kid is fucked up" and put them away (although, the law being what it is, they can't prosecute the 12 year-old - they have to let him go).
So, why do Americans always point the finger at the movie industry when they haven't produced anything nearly as disturbing as Battle Royale?
What's interesting is that, in this movie, the Battle Royale program was created as a way to rein kids in, to scare hell out of them for being such little punks. What the movie implies, however, is that while kids are getting worse, the adults are partly to blame. They pin all their hopes on the kids and then the adults let them down. It's a nice little symbiotic relationship, and both sides have let down their end. Rather than try to find a way to fix it, though, the Government did what governments like to do - pin the blame on Those Damn Kids.
In the defense of the Movies Are Poison crowd, however, I will say one thing: Murder and mayhem in most Hollywood movies is pretty glamorous, or at least not very graphic. Most of the killings in The Matrix were clean and once people were dead, there were no real repercussions. We see a few blood packs burst and that's about it.
In this, however, the killings are quite graphic (kudos to the SFX guy who figured out how to make blood spray from a slit throat - very well done), and while I can imagine kids playing Matrix in their backyards, I can't imagine them getting the same sense of "This is COOL!" from this movie.
Which means that, perhaps, it should be shown in the States. It's a little closer to what killing is really like, both in the act and in its ramifications. *shrug* Just thinking off the top of my head here....
Here's my review of the book.
Is that how you spell it? Damned if I know, and I'm an English teacher....
Anyway, someone asked again, "when are you coming home?" I'm never sure how to answer that question....
Usually I tell people that I'll come home once Dubya is voted out of office, which is broadly true. I despise the entire administration and all they stand for, and cannot stand the thought of giving them my tax dollars.
But there's more than that, really. And it's tough to explain, but I'll try.
I do miss things about living in the States. I miss my family and my friends, of course. I miss my goddaughter and all of my other proxy neices and nephews. I miss Dunkin' Donuts and cheap books and clothing stores where I don't have to wear size LL clothes. Cheap movie tickets, people I can eavesdrop on, pizza without potatoes and mayo.... There's a lot that I miss.
What I don't miss, however, is working in jobs that I don't enjoy, and not making enough money to enjoy myself outside of work. I don't miss having, for all intents and purposes, no real employable skills. No specific skills, anyway, and I don't enjoy the knowledge that I'll have to beg and scrounge for a job if I go back.
Let's face it - when I was in the States, I worked a series of humiliating, demeaning, really stressful jobs in the retail sector. I lived first in an apartment I couldn't afford and then in one that I could, but it was a five-minute walk from what was probably a crack house. I was a secretary, which was a pretty good job, but anyone who worked with me can tell that I wasn't very good at it. Not on the whole organizational, punctuality front.
Most of my friends lived out of state as it were, or were actually becoming Serious Adults by getting married and having kids. I did have some good Friend Time, yes, but I wasn't very good at keeping the wheels turning, as it were. I was single and miserable, and every effort at being social was an abysmal failure.
Mind you, that's not much different here.... But here I have a job that I'm pretty damn good at, one that's in demand as well. I'm making good money for the first time in my life, I live in a good city (where I don't need a car - one less thing to worry about) and have a chance to learn a lot and do a lot. I have a good boyfriend, and everything is pretty... content.
I guess it comes down to this - I like my life here. I didn't much like my life when I was back in the States. That's about it.
The big question is this: am I obigated to give up my own comfort to make other people happy? Should I go back home because everyone wants me to go?
I'm not trying to be facetious here (can spell that one), really. This is a bone that I do gnaw on every time someone asks me The Question. I find myself wondering if I'm just being selfish, staying here in Japan, or perhaps just deliberately stubborn. Am I pushing people away, perhaps somehow punishing them for the failure I made of my life for the four years after college, seeking a way to avoid taking responsibility for my decisions by transferring them to the people around me and blaming them for not making my life better for me?
Heh... Who needs psychotherapy, right? I can figure this shit out.
One of the things that does keep me up at night, actually (besides the whole re-entering the job market after thirty, finding an apartment, readjusting to American Life thing) is the thought that I'm losing touch with people. That when I go home I'll try to get back with old friends and realize that I've been gone too long and that they've gone on without me. It'll be a case of, "Well you went away and we went on. Good luck to you."
I can already see it, or I think I do - emails go unreturned, I see references on blogs that I don't understand, and when I do go home and visit I find that I don't get the in-jokes anymore. When I get back, I'm worried that I'll be too far behind for them to wait for me, and I'll have to go through the whole Shove-My-Ego-Through-The-Cheese-Grater process of making new friends.
That makes my gut churn.
Damned if I know what it all is. The point is, I don't want to go back. Not yet, anyway. Even when the time does come, it'll take a while to execute the move - saving money to set up shop back home, to ship all of my stuff back to the States, to find a new apartment and all that.... I'm saving, just in case, but not nearly enough for that.
So, if you've been wondering when I'll come back.... I'll be back when I'm ready. Until then, sorry. Hope to see you when I come and visit.
I've found that it's really difficult to sustain Rage, no matter how inane Dubya and the rest of the Federal Government is being. Probably because I need that energy for work. Teaching English here is half teaching and half entertaining. For a country where so many people claim to want to learn English, there are an awful lot who need to be coddled into speaking.
So I have to guide them along, holding their hands, as it were. My drastic personality swings between teaching time and off-time are evidence of this. In any case, I need the energy there, and staying pisssed at Georgie isn't going to make my life any better.
So I've been watching Buffy. I know, I'm incredibly behind the times. When the show was originally on the air, pretty much all of my friends were talking about it. I didn't have cable, though, so I couldn't watch and basically tuned out whenever conversation got Buffy-centric.
Well, now I have seen up through season 4 of the show (and I'm in the middle of watching season 2 of Angel) and I can understand why they were always so entranced by that show. One of my co-workers has bought the DVDs from the States and lends them to me when he's done watching.
It's a fun show - some great dialogue, good ideas and storylines. It rides the balance of humor and horror and drama pretty well, and most of the stories hold up well.
I just do kinda wish, though, that I had sprung for cable. It would have been nice to be in on the Buffy-centric conversations. *shrug* Well, I guess eating took priority at the time. I'll just have to live with seeing it now....
First of all, welcome to the new and improved Labyrinth Blog! Thanks, Deb, for setting this up. Much appreciated. *smile*
So, anyway, with what to regale you....?
Well, I've been having a jolly old time with my new computer - downloading ungodly amounts of South Park, which I sorely miss from all my time without cable TV, God bless the Internet.
Went to a Korean restaurant tonight with my boyfriend. Interesting place - they cut your meat for you, with meat scissors, and delicately place it on the grill in your table. Go figure, they don't want to trust us with all the sharp things. *shrug*
Anyway, it was really good, although the Kimchee was a bit spicy for my tastes....
So now I can update anytime I want. Groovy....
(Yes, it's a tie.... *sigh*