Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tokyo & beyond...

4/27 - After 4 days of no internet in our apartment in Nakano, Japan, which is why I haven’t made any internet posts lately, I have internet access in San Francisco. yeah!
Nakano was mostly made up of apartments, convenience stores, game centers and Pachinko parlors. Pachinko, for any of you who don’t know, is the Japanese equivalent of slot machines. While walking by a parlor, the distinct odor of cigarette smoke fillled our nostrils and the ringing of slot machine bells filled our ears.

After 4 days in Nakano, we got on the plane for San Francisco, California. Now that I am back in the USA, jet lag has not been friendly to me. I am off to bed, so see you later.

4/28 - Here is how Mom said I spent our “jet lag recovery day” : Get up at 10:30 am and use the bathroom. Eat breakfast at 11:00 am and used the bathroom.
Took a taxi to the San Francisco Modern Museum of Art and used the bathroom.
Drove back to Burlingame, California and used the bathroom. Went for a swim. Went out to dinner along Burlingame Broadway, came home, used the bathroom and went to bed.
Another day in my exciting travels, according to Mom and Dad...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Monday 4/20/09 and Tuesday 4/21/09

On Monday we returned to one of our favorite places in Japan, Uji! Uji is a short train ride south of Kyoto, & is over 1000 years old and is the place where the emperor’s tea is grown. Uli’s biggest claims to fame are it’s tea and the two oldest temple/shrines in Japan, the Buddhist Byoudouin and the Shinto Ujigami. This time we decided not to go to the Byoudouin, because we’d been there before & we thought we’d like to pick some omamori at Ujigami for gifts. On the way to Ujigami we stopped at multiple shops which sold green tea & tea sweets, such as odango. Odango are little balls of sweet mochi which are sometimes flavoured. The ones we bought in Uji were, as you probably guessed, green tea flavour. I, for one, really like odango, especially green tea flavoured ones. After we bought the odango & various other odds & ends, we went to the oldest surviving sweets shop in Japan, which has been around for 830 years! While there I had 3 sticks of odango & some green tea, which to tell the truth, I didn’t really like.

When we got to Ujigami we did some looking around & I did a few water purifications. As luck would have it, as my parents were buying omamori, I felt I had to go to the bathroom. So dad & I started for one we’d seen on the way to the shrine, but when I entered the men’s room, guess what kind of toilet they had- yep, a Japanese-style toilet, which I didn’t feel up to using, no matter how bad I had to go (& it really stank in there). So, once mom joined us we went back to the tea shop, where the owners kindly let me use the toilet, which was western-style, thank goodness!!

After we’d had enough walking around and buying things, we decided to head back to our little machiya in Kyoto. When we got on the train, one of the ladies on the train started talking to us, & when she realised we understood what she was saying, she started conversing with us. Which eventually led to 2 other ladies & one man joining in, & eventually we all exchanged gifts, & took photos (& in dad’s case, the gentleman exchanged email addresses). All 3 ladies were fascinated by our ability to speak japanese, & as it turned out, one of them liked my nose, so she walked up & rubbed it. Maybe she thought she’d get good luck by rubbing it. After some time travelling we reached our stop & we had to part ways. dad decided that on this trip, we were on the party train!

On Tuesday it was raining so we decided to go to Kyoto Station & do some shopping. I personally was looking for 2 toys from one of mom's & my favourite shows, Kamen Rider Decade. One is called the Decade Belt, which helps the person who uses it transform into Kamen Rider (masked rider) Decade. The other is Decade's card-holder/battle tool. The belt makes all the noises that are on the show (it makes different noises when different cards are put into it) & the battle tool makes noises when you swing it. We found these two amazing toys in the toy area of a department store called Isetan.

After we bought the Decade toys we went to lunch at an Italian restaurant which, I'll be darned, served pizza. The pizza was good but messy. Then we wandered around & found Japanese-style Duncan Doughnuts, called "Meestah Donatsu". The doughnuts tasted a little different, but were still good. After that we looked for obentou to take home for dinner. Once we found them we decided we were too tired to do any more shopping, so we took the train home.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Random Japan Q & A

If you ever feel like coming to Japan, here are a few things you should be prepared for. Try figuring out what they are!
Let's see... Pocari Sweat... wonder where it can be found? Does it have to do with these people?

Well, what do you know... it's a sport's drink! I probably won't be waiting long in line at the vending machine for this...

Found this sign on the sidewalk- who knew that cigarettes have hands- & legs! What's this little guy saying...?

Translation: "Danger: do not smoke while walking!"

Does this look familiar to you? Hmmm... wonder where you sit?

This is a traditional japanese toilet- forget the magazine, though.

I wonder what this controls... one button says "oshiri"... that means "butt"... the other one says "bidet"... ask your mother about that one...

Huh- this is another part of the same device? What the heck is a sink doing here?

Ahhh- I see! This is the western-style toilet! The buttons spray water on you bottom- luckily, it's warm water! The faucet runs only after you flush the toilet, pretty eco-conscious, huh?

Hope you enjoyed this tour of interesting things you might find in Japan!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Saturday & Sunday- Buddhist & Shinto

Saturday morning was the best so far- unlike yesterday, I slept until 3:30 am. Until myparents got up I read one of my books and watched a tv show mom has downloaded on her laptop. Somewhere around 6:00 we had breakfast, which consisted of ramen and orange juice. At 7:00 we set out for a temple dad had found in his guidebook. The walk was about 15-20 minutes. The temple was at the top of a hill & the pretty much the only way to get there was a narrow road that was relatively quiet, for the time being.

The name of the temple we were heading to was Kiyomizu-Dera. In Japan there are 2 kinds of holy places: a Shinto shrine is called a jinja & a Buddhist temple is called an otera. Kiyomizu-Dera is a Buddhist temple. Our visit there was pretty quiet for the first half hour, then a bunch of schoolkids began trickling in... then more... then more... then more... until the whole place was infested with school children. If you have claustrophobia, I suggest that you visit this temple at 3:00 in the morning & leave before 8:00 in order to survive!

That was pretty much the only big event of Saturday.

Today (Sunday) I slept until 5:00- a lot better than yesterday! After I woke up I started reading & somewhere around 6:00 mom & dad woke up. We got dressed, went downstairs, & had breakfast, which in mycase consisted of toast, an apple (which was extremely delicious), & a hard-boiled egg, which was made the previous day.After breakfast mom asked me to help her hang up the laundry, which I grudgingly agreed to do.

The main even of the day was to visit a Shinto shrine called the Fushimi Inari Taisha. The shrine was devoted to the goddess of rice & wealth, & whose messengers are foxes, or kitsune. One of the interesting features of the shrine was the 4 km pathways of torii gates, donated by families over more then 1500 years, so that the goddess would grant them prosperity. As luck would have it, while we were there, we saw people there preparing for a matsuri, or a festival. The most distinguishing feature of the festival was the 5 mobile shrines that were moved entirely by people power. The shrines looked as though they were made of brass & wood- very heavy- it was quite the sight to see them carrying them from what looked like storage garages.
Another feature of the shrine is the large number of shops selling omamori, mini torii gates, little kitsune statues, & different types of food, such as inari sushi. After we bought a few things, including my own personal tea pot, we took the train back to our little machiya & had lunch.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Airplanes, Ryokans, & Science Museums, Oh My!

At long last we have arrived in Japan, regardless of the cramped plane ride and terrible airplane food!

The ride here was about twelve hours long (although it felt like an entire freaking day), lucky for me I was reletively unaffected by the forces of jetlag. When we got off the plane we got on the train to get to the ryokan where we have stayed for one night. After the fifty minute train ride we arrived in Shitamachi where we soon checked in to the ryokan and promtly went to sleep (or at least I did seeing that I only got about three hours of sleep on the plane).

Today started something like this: I woke up around 3:00 am and, at my parents’ request, began reading by flashlight (therefore, not disturbing mom & dad’s sleep). I read until 5:00 until I was asked by my dad if I wanted to take a soak in the ofuro (bath). After my peaceful soak in the ofuro, me, mom, & dad took a walk around the neighbourhood to familiarize ourselves with the surroundings (my parents were more interested in where the train station was).

Here’s a little fact about Japanese cities: they are completely littered with vending machines, & not just one kind. There are vending machines with sodas, with tea, with coffee (sometimes hot!), & some with juice (or some with all of the above). There were also a large number of cigarette vending machines, although I didn’t know what the heck thery were until one of my parents told me. And, of course, I bought some hot coffee from one of the machines, for about 130 en- about $1.30 US. This might be surprising to some people, but the coffee was delicious!

So after our walk we came backto the ryokan for breakfast, which consisted of toast, juice, & tea (we had the option of having coffee, but seeing as I had already had some from the machine, we decided to have tea). The toast was nice & fluffy & tasted really good with the margarine provided.

After breakfast we retraced out steps to the train station where we hopped on the train & headed toward Ueno Park, one of the largest parks in Tokyo.
Our plan was to go to the science musem there & while there, have lunch. On our way to the museum there was an incredible amount of school kids (I could tell they were school kids because of their uniforms- or seifuku). They were most likely on field trips, since it was a school day, & Ueno Park was a good choice for a fiield trip In my opinion, because of it’s beauty & the all the museums located in the area.

The science museum was definitely busy. The exhibits were large & fairly interesting at that. My favourite part was the hands-on physics exhibits (I wasn’t the only one enjoying it- there were a bunch of other kids there as well, most of them school kids). In the museum there were 2 restaurants. One was on the first floor & the second was on a higher level, & interestingly enough, one was located near an exhibit showing the gastro-intestinal system of a cow & other such things (which I thought was quite ironic). We chose the restaurant on the lower level & I bought a tuna onigiri (an onigiri is a ball of rice which usually has a filling in the center, such as tuna), some Japanese potato chips, & a grape soda.
Lunch was enjoyable & after we were finished we headed back to the train station. On the way there we stopped at a Buddhist temple, where mom bought omamori (which are the Japanese equivalent of good luck charms except that they deflect bad luck instead) & dad saw a wooden statue of a Buddhist deity that people there had been rubbing (I don’t know why) for what appeared to be a long time- the wooden shoulders were worn down from all the rubbing.

When we got back, mom & dad rested while I read a book & did a little typing for my blog (which you have already read). Then me & dad took another walk around the block to see what there was to see & to find a tempura restaurant for dinner. Instead we found a bunch of cemeteries & a few convenience stores. I noticed that the cemetaries had large wooden sticks poking out fo the ground, that rattled in the wind. which my dad found creepy.

After our walk I finished my book & then we left & eventuallu found our tempura restaurant (by the way, tempura is vegetables & stuff which has been dipped in batter & fried). The owner had a world map on the wall & when he found out where we were from he put a marker on the map, to remember where his customers had come from. He spoke some English & I got the impression that he was fairly impressed with our Japanese.

Dinner consisted of boiled vegetables, tempura (of course), rice, miso soup, & green tea. I tried some of the boiled vegetables (or, “nimono”) & tempura, regrettably, they were a little too differrent for me. I did manage to eat some of the rice & soup & then just when things were feeling good, the forces of jet lag hit me like a ton of bricks & nearly knocked me out. So, groggily, I made my way (with my parents) back to the ryokan, where I put on my pajamas & promptly fell asleep.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Pre-Japan Jitters!

To think that a week from tomorrow we all get on a plane to Japan after two years of waiting to go back! Since you probably do not know much about our plans of travel here is a very brief summary of our trip to Japan.

Week one: Arrive in Tokyo and spend two nights in a ryokan (a ryokan is a Japanese inn), take the shinkansen (bullet train) to kyoto for six days.

Week two: Return to Tokyo to meet friends (and shop ; ) for four days.

Week three: Fly to San Francisco and spend two days recuperating then fly home.

So that's our general agenda but some things I want to do are:
visit some temples
eat Japanese food (and snacks :D)
buy some stuff from our favorite Japanese TV shows such as Kamen Rider Decade and Samurai Sentai Shinkenger.

I hope to blog every day while in Japan so stay tuned!