29 June 2008

Japan, days 7-13

June 21
Traveled from Nara to Tokyo, where we trekked to our hotel over in Ikebukuro, then took the train out to Nakano, to go shopping at Nakano Broadway. Then back to the hotel and sleep.

June 22
More shopping, this time on the other side of Ikebukuro where a bunch of anime fan shops are concentrated.

June 23
This was the day we got our tickets to the Studio Ghibli museum for, so it was off to Mitaka to visit the Totoro and cat bus. Studio Ghibli has made a dozen or so animated films for all ages, including Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. We weren't the only foreigners there, but it was primarily Japanese people. There was a section on how animation is made, and another whole part with storyboards and concept sketches and watercolors. Really cool.

After that, we went down to Harajuku to look for fashion victims and also to poke around in a clothing store. I found clothes that fit me (shockingly, because my Western body is larger in several important dimensions compared to Japanese people.) and had to buy them. It was really expensive. Then finding awesome clothes for Ben made it even more expensive. :P

Then off to Shinjuku to see Kabukicho, which is the red-light district. Plenty of neon, ads for hostess clubs (and well-dressed, attractive men standing outside to get customers inside them, and ads for host clubs (and well-dressed, attractive men standing outside to get customers inside them.) Hostess clubs are generally targeted to straight men, while host clubs have 2 distinct target audiences: straight women and gay men. The 2 types of club are not in the same place. Japan is really weird: mixed-sex excursions into, uh, sexually-tinged clubs are unheard of. So it was hard to tell if no one approached us because we were foreigners or because we were a couple.

Then it started raining like mad, so we fled back to the hotel.

June 24
Off to Akihabara. Akihabara Electric Town is the mecca for people who want electronic devices - computers, phones, TVs, etc. It's also a mecca for anime nerds, though targeted mostly to boys. Wandered around, but didn't spend too much. Then we found the Zeon Bar, but it was closed, so we went to the Feddie Bar instead. (It's located at 8-5 Soto-Kanda 1-chome, Akihabara, for the curious. On the 4th or 5th floor.)

June 25
Being out of money, we went to Sensou-ji, a very large temple in northeastern Tokyo, and the Meiji Jingu shrine (yes, *that* Meiji. See days 1-6.) Then we went *back* to Harajuku to people watch, and buy more clothes. With the real credit card this time.

June 26
Back to east Ikebukuro to pick up a few things we'd missed earlier, then the plan was to go to the old Edo-era palace area and gardens, but it was about 65 degrees and raining, which made the idea of wandering around outside decidedly unattractive. Also, I was starting to feel a little sick, so we went back to the hotel and I took a nap. Then we went to find a karaoke parlor and sang for an hour, then tried to find dinner. Eventually we stumbled on a Y150/plate sushi bar. It was pretty good, for cheap sushi. Then we went *back* to Akihabara, to go to the Zeon Bar. I tried the Kyu Zaku, which was purple and sweet and had a green maraschino cherry (to represent the Mono-eye.) Ben got a Gokk of some sort that tasted like a fizzy Tootsie Roll. It is, in fact, located above a maid cafe, kind of near Asobit City and Super Potato. Cool bar.

June 27
Our flight left at 3:20 pm, so we caught an express to the airport at 10:30 to be there at noon. You can't be too early, I say. Then we got back to Atlanta at 2:45 pm 6/27, regaining the day we lost flying west. Long flights suck.

Japan, days 1-6

June 14-15
Starting with a 6 am EST flight to Atlanta, we went to Japan. Because of the time difference, we lost Saturday entire and arrived around 1:30 pm JST 6/15. After getting through immigration and the train station, we headed off to our hotel, where we showered and waited for Ben's folks to show up, since their flight was a couple hours after ours.

After they got to Tokyo, we found some dinner and got tickets to Kyoto for the next day.

June 16
Got the Shinkansen to Kyoto and got there around noon. Found our hotel, left our luggage, and walked around the Imperial Gardens, which were right across the street. Then we wandered to find lunch, then walked to Nijo Castle. Nijo was an old palace of the shogunate, and the floors were constructed to squeak melodically (nightingale floors) to warn of approaching people (or ninjas). Then back to the hotel to check in and get some food.

June 17
Nestled in the eastern mountains (東山; Higashiyama) are about a dozen temples and shrines. Kyoto was a capital once; the first character in 京都 means capital (and is part of Tokyo 東京; east capital), so it was a very important city, so many temples were built. There's a walking tour you can take to see half of them in half a day (or all of them, if you've got time). We started out at Kiyomizudera, walked up to Kodaiji, then Chion-in, skipped one, and walked up to Nanzenji, the center of Zen Buddhism in that region of Japan. From there, we took the bus over to Kinkakuji, which is covered in gold leaf.

June 18
Day trip time! Off to Inari for the Fushimi-Inari shrine, which has a plethora of torii gates in a row, and you walk through them to get up the hill. The effect is pretty cool, really. Then to Uji for another temple, Byodo-in, and another shrine. Lots of walking.

Japan is largely Buddhist and Shinto; there's a saying that Buddhism is for life, and Shinto is for death. That means Buddhism tells you how to live, but Shinto is for after you're dead. Temples are Buddhist; shrines are Shinto.

June 19
Another day trip, this time to Osaka, the second largest city in Japan (yet still considered the boonies by Tokyoites.) We went to Osaka Castle, which was destroyed in 1640 or so during the battle between shoguns Toyotomi and Tokugawa, partially rebuilt, then destroyed again in 1863 during the Meiji Restoration. For about 200 years, Japan was ruled by the Tokugawa family, who were a military clan. Then in 1860, the imperial family wanted to regain their power, so there was a civil war to restore the imperial dynasty. Anyway. Sometime after WW2, the castle was rebuilt, but it now houses a museum about the Toyotomi/Tokugawa war. It's kinda nifty.

Then we met a friend who's living between Kyoto and Osaka, teaching English to high school kids. We went to the neon-lit area, called the Dotombori, and had okonomiyaki, which is basically a pan-fried cake based on cabbage and egg, with mix-ins of your choice. It's really easy to make.

June 20
Moved off to Nara. Nara was the first capital of Japan, and it has the oldest, most important shrine in Japan. It's also home to the largest wooden building in the world (the Daibutsuen) which houses a very large wooden Buddha. Nara Park is home to a lot of deer, which are considered sacred, because it's believed that the imperial family's ancestor, revered in the Kasuga Taisha shrine, rode to town on a deer. The deer are tame, and you can even pet them. You can feed them, too, though the buggers know you've got food, and they'll mug you for it.

In Nara, we stayed in a traditional Japanese inn, a ryokan. The owner made a nice vegetarian dinner for me, which was awesome, since the traditional ryokan food is based on fish. Mine was based on tofu and mushrooms. I certainly approve. It was a ton of food, and I ate most of it. Then the next morning, we got breakfast, which was also huge.

After Nara, it was off to Tokyo for the remainder of the time.

11 June 2008

Countdown to Japan

Holy crap, we're leaving on Saturday. I feel woefully unprepared. We've got some friends who can come over and take care of the cats, another friend to take us to and from the airport (even paying for gas would be less than paying for 2 weeks airport parking), a travel book, an atlas of Tokyo, websites for where to go for nerd stuff (and notes on paper). I suppose it could be worse, though.

Depending on our net connectivity, I'll drop an update or two while over there.