Friday, August 31, 2007

The Results of A Crafternoon

The cat is one of my favorite gifts that Tech Support's mother has given me. The red bib is something I've seen all over Japan and been wanting to make, my mum helped me.

Aunt Kitty made this, and it outclasses all the other magnets on my refrigerator. Unfortunately my camera phone cannot take good closeups.

I want to finish posting about Japan, but I think I shall mix it in with other posts from now on.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Endless Summer

Originally Friday, July 27th

I dragged Tech Support out of bed early on Friday to hike up a mountain with me. We went over to the train station to get our passes with my mother then left her behind as we took the bus to Nanzenji.

We walked past the main temple with intent and started up the mountain path. I led us past the point we'd gotten to before and only a short while later we came to a big split in the paths and stared with confusion at the map, entirely in Japanese. Some nice men pointed in one direction and said "Daimon", and since they appeared convinced that was the way we should go I was happy to follow their direction.

Also, I realized only a few minutes later that Daimon was the name of a rather famous mountain in Kyoto.

Then we walked, and walked, and walked. My ability to read Kanji just good enough that I was able to keep us heading towards Daimon anytime there was a split in the path. Most of the way trees obscured our view, but there were a few breaks.

We worked well as a team. One of us would fade at a time, saying something like, "well, I can go a little further but we've got to stop soon" and as soon as they were ready to give up the other would say "No, I see some blue, there is a beautiful view just up ahead."

This went on for almost two hours.

Finally I was just about ready to expire but Tech Support wanted to jog ahead further. I told him I'd walk slowly behind him and we'd meet up at some point. I followed after him, and after just a few minutes he disappeared from sight. I came to a split in the road and worried he might not know which way to go, but went in the directions I was fairly certain he'd gone.

And I walked, and walked. I worried again that he'd gone a different way at the split, but knew it was far more likely he'd forgotten about time altogether. I pressed on, panting like a dog after a rather steep incline, and only worried when I got to an even bigger fork in the road. From the map it looked like something ahead was worth getting to, but first you had to go up a rather step incline.

I climbed up. Another fork, this time no signs to help you. I looked both ways. I mumbled Tech Support's name loudly, then, worried, I started back down again. He would find me when I headed back.

I paused at the bottom to look at the map one more time, and that's when I heard my name. Tech Support was at the top of the hill, and so pleased to see me. I followed after him and after a few minutes, we saw our view.

Pictures can't do it justice, we saw all of Kyoto. At once. We could see the station, where our Ryokan was, the tiny orange gate that was the massive Tori for the Heian Shrine, everything.

We sat down for a moment. Another couple was there, and older Japanese one, she was trying to talk to JR about something she'd lost on the train and was having trouble getting reception up the mountain.

Tech Support and I had run out of water, poor planning on our part, and were already dreading a bit of the downhill. While the slope was hard on our knees, we only took about an hour, half the time it took to get up, to get back down. But by the time I recognized things as being down by the base I was terrifically thirsty. It was hard not to run through the temple to the soda machines.

We caught the bus back to Kyoto station and then walked over to our Ryokan where we showered and rolled around on our futons, groaning. Tech Support got some laundry together and went down the street. I went over to visit him but the heat was so bad that even walking on the street was difficult.

(Probably my favorite shot from the trip.)

I left him with the laundry and wandered around just a tiny bit more, taking refuge in the air conditioned crafts store, then going back to meet with everyone at the Ryokan.

We had Okonomiyaki at the train station, a fun experience that involved cooking our own crazy pancake-type-thing on our table. Then went across town to Gion where we got our own booth and Karaoke'd for a few hours. Lil Bro's tempo was off but his voice surprisingly like Bob Dylan's, J-Po made everything into heavy metal, and I was totally unable to carry a tune.

Karaoke is always deceptively fun. I think an hour is enough time to sing with friends, then suddenly almost two hours have gone by and it's time to get back to the Ryokan before curfew.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Key Oh Toe

Originally Thursday, July 26th.

Thursday was the first full day in Kyoto, and also my father's birthday. Unfortunately by the time I'd remembered that he'd already disappeared, with my brother, to the coin laundry down the street. We had breakfast at the Ryokan, very tasty, and me, Tech Support, Mom and J-Po set out for some sight seeing.

Most of us had already seen some of the major sights, so we let J-Po lead us to some smaller shrines and temples over on the East side of Kyoto. First we got a little lost and talked to the cutest little Japanese lady who set us right. Our first Shrine was dedicated to Susanoh-no-mikoto, Kusanagi, and bunnies. Yes, it was a fertility shrine.

The sky started dropping big fat raindrops to add to the atmosphere at the small, quiet shrine. We checked out the little charms for purchase, all adorable and adorned with bunnies, but none of us knew anyone pregnant so we could not justify the purchase.

We slipped next door to an even smaller and more unremarkable temple. The main sights there was a well that some famous monk had seen his reflecting in, and a plum tree.

There was some other atmosphere as well.

Then we climbed up the hill to a much larger temple and wandered around the grounds. It was still raining and the quiet and rain added to the solemnity of the experience. There were no loud bustling crowds in the temples, and we could enjoy the experience without feeling hurried by the people bumping against our backs.

Japanese graveyards are wonderful. I have an odd fondness for graveyards anyway but I do like theirs the best overall. We walked through a few large ones and enjoyed some of the odd headstone type things we came across. We chatted with J-Po and caught up with him on some things.

Then we came down and went several blocks to Nanzenji, a temple I'd been to before and quite liked. We went up the gate, which had steep stairs I'd completely forgotten, and then looked out at the beautiful landscape at the edge of Kyoto.

We came down and walked over to the aqueduct where some people were doing art, and then climbed up to the mountain behind the temple. Ever since I'd been there last year I'd wanted to go further up to mountain, but unfortunately neither mum nor Jason were up for that. I only got a little further than I'd gotten before, just far enough to perk my interest.

I told Tech Support I wanted to go up there again, and he said he'd come with me.

At that point people started getting hungry and tempers started getting short. We went down to the bus and shot over to the Gion area, where we took another bus to actually get into Gion. We went down a sweet little street full of places to eat that had closed about a half an hour ago (it was about 3:30pm by now). Tempers fraying further, we finally found a Muji Deli and enjoyed a peaceful little lunch.

The department building we were in of course had a Muji, but I'd already found all the clothes I liked, and a large bookstore for several floors. I explored the bookstore but despite the expansive section of cookbooks and childrearing books, found little that interested me in the Knitting/Crochet section.

We then explored Gion, an area Tech Support had wanted to explore since last year. We didn't have too much time, I found a bookstore that did have some neat craft books, Mum left us, and we found some bizarre, hip hop style shirts.

We had to hurry back in time for a bizarre birthday dinner with my father at a little restaurant called Cafe Beret. The Prosciutto Sandwich that most of the party had consisted of one sliver of prosciutto, lettuce and mayonnaise on wonder bread. An opulent banquet it was not.

Dad headed back to the hotel and the rest of us went to get some pastries for him to enjoy. We split again and the boys took the pastries back while mom and I went to a craft store we'd been to before and I found a book I'd been looking for.

Back at the ryokan I enjoyed a little down time with my parents, eating half of a rich pastry with my mother. We also found out that ours was not the only group where tempers had become short, which was a bit of a relief. I went out to find a karaoke place with Tech Support, Lil Bro, Meggish, her fiance, and J-Po. Meggish and I were fading fast and the two karaoke places by the station were both busy and had a questionable number of english songs so we went back home instead to collapse.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Raw Fish Raw Fish

Wednesday was our last day in Tokyo. Determined to finally see the Tokyo fish market, Tech Support and I set the alarm for 6:30am. We'd gone to bed at around midnight, so this was quite the commitment. The alarm went off, whimpers ensued, and we got Meggish, her fiance, and Theo to join us in the adventure.

Too bad the fish market was closed. Sad and tired, we consoled ourselves by eating raw tuna on rice from a Blade Runner-esque street-side shop. It was delicious, and we almost felt healed.

We packed up our stuff and checked out, spending our last hour in Tokyo by going to a previous favorite, Trunks Ya. Then we got our stuff and headed to the subway, and then Ueno. We spent the next hour in an exciting bit of bureaucracy, messaging Jason and trying to coordinate ourselves on the bullet train. We made it on the 12:40 train. I spent the 2 1/2 hour ride catching up on blogs-to-be-posted, and then passing out against Tech Support. When I woke up, we were in Kyoto.

Tech Support and I had previously stayed in our Ryokan so finding the place again was as easy as sushi. We met up with my parents, who were having a grand time and had even rearranged the rooms to our advantage. After a brief rest the girls ventured out to Kyoto.

We wandered around the fair sized underground shopping area for a few hours (at least 1 hour too many). I remembered many of the shops from previous visits, but there were a few new faces as well. I scoured the bookstore for craft books, but passed on the lovely, but expensive, clothing.

Then we joined up with most of our party for another old friend - the Kaiten Zushi place at the South Exit. The sushi is okay and the price is cheap. To my surprise I ate a moderate amount, losing steam faster than I filled up. Tech Support and I left by ourselves and spent a few more minutes exploring the station, and finding another bookstore, before we went back.

Tech Support had reserved the public bath for us, and it was my first chance to share the bath with him. Unfortunately while Shimizu is lovely, their bath is scalding hot. I enjoyed showering and then poured lukewarm water over myself to try and combat the heat of the day and felt satisfied despite the lack of soaking.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Carp vs. Swallows

Originally Tuesday, July 24th

When I woke up Tuesday I was in a completely different world than when I'd gone to sleep. Any trace of the fog was gone. Outside Mt. Nantai was tall and impressive and it was hard to imagine we'd been totally unable to see it until that point.

Since it was 5am I had to try and sleep a bit more, but as soon as it hit 6am I got dressed and ran out. The others were asleep and I wasn't going to wait around. I walked down the street to the parking lot with the freaky vending machine. In the daylight the place was pretty benign so I continued along an asphalt path.

The area was beautiful. My mind wandered freely along with my feet and I regretted not exploring my own area of the world more this way. I only had about an hour and a half and no watch, so I walked as far as an old Italian Embassy.

I climbed along an empty riverbed with stairs that lead nowhere until I was back on the asphalt road again. The air was cold but I'd managed to myself up with all the walking. Thankfully my foot wasn't hurting much.

I got back and found that the other room, which held Meggish's crew and Lil Bro, was still asleep. Tech Support had gone off to shower and my parents were laying on their futons. They were all impressed with the change a day had made on the scenery.

We ate our breakfast, another fantastic meal prepared by the lovely people at Miharashi, and got our stuff together so take we could get going. My parents left first since they had to go all the way to Kyoto, and the rest of us ambled after. We waved at them as we went by, on our way to Kegon Falls.

The mob scene started there. Dozens of children from several different countries were running around. Still, we enjoyed our view of the huge waterfall, and paid the extra money to take an elevator down to the base and get splashed by the mist. As we got onto the elevator I realized I'd left my cell phone charger behind. My cell phone is my favorite camera.

Tech Support and I left a little ahead of the others, with him jogging ahead, to run back and get the charger. Despite our best efforts we had no chance of getting onto the next bus. Unbeknownst to us, the rest of our party hopped onto the wrong bus while we ran around. They would spend the next hour and half traveling to the top of a mountain and back down again, arriving disappointed and upset to have missed all chance of seeing anything more in Nikko.

Totally oblivious to this, Tech Support and I caught the correct bus and went down to the shrines.

We saw the famous "hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil, see-no-evil" monkeys, and heard a monk clang together two pieces of wood that made metal in the walls and ceiling reverberate. We looked at pictures of the sleeping cat and grave of Tokugawa Ieyasu rather than paying the extra 520 yen to see them in person.

The sun may have made the lake beautiful but it made walking around the shrines miserably hot. Add to that the crowds and I was already wishing it was like the day before again. I had a good time hanging with just my boy, but my pleasure was subdued by the conditions.

The sacred horse from New Zealand was a little strange. No really, that's what it is. No, I don't understand.

We managed to visit everywhere but one Shrine, but as time was running out we decided to meet up with the others. This is when we finally discovered what had happened. As we boarded the train back to our hotel in Tokyo everyone was a little quiet, because everyone was a little miserable.

The day was destined to be long however, so we went back to our hotel and rechecked in. Shigetsu Ryokan in Asakusa is lovely and they had our rooms all ready for us. After about an hour everyones feelings were mostly repaired and we headed out for a baseball game, we were going to see the Carp versus the Swallows.

Forget the game itself, American baseball fans have nothing on their Japanese counterparts. The sheer effort involved with supporting their team was noteworthy. They chanted, banged things together, let off balloons in unison and waved very large flags around.

There were also half a dozen girls wandering around with large beer dispensers strapped to their backs, which a few of us took advantage of.

The day was not quite over however, because we enjoyed an abortive effort to get dinner and a little shopping done in Shinjuku. It was too late and the shops were closed and we had to get back to our hotel, so mostly we wandered around Shinjuku at night. By then I was exhausted and mostly just wandering around, following them.

We got to our hotels just shy of 11PM and feasted on donuts for dinner before passing out. Tech Support and I set our alarms, eager to try and get to the Tokyo fishmarket for once.