My fiancee made the (very valid) point that my post are too text heavy. I do prefer the feel of some of my older posts, so I’m going to try to apply more graphics to each article. I also have a dearth of photos from my time in the land of the rising sun. This will be first of several post where I display said photos, and tell whatever stories may be attached to them.
There is something about castles that rouses a child-like excitement in me. Youthful fantasies of knights, dragons, samurai, and ninja clashing in grand battles dance in my head. The dreams are something akin to Game of Thrones on LSD. I am constantly amazed at how amidst bustling, modern Japanese cities grand traditional structures like these castles rise out. The old and the new complementing each other more than contrasting. They balance each other out, and give each other space in a land where space is at a premium.
I visited Osaka Castle and Nijo Castle on my initial stay in Japan. When I returned, every one of my Japan faring friends asked if I visited Himeji Castle. I had not. Osaka Castle and Nijo Castle are marvelous in their own right, but it is difficult to compare them with Himeji Castle. One of the few castles to remain unscathed by the ravages of natural disaster or war (especially the second world one.) The interior is maintained just as it was in the castle’s prime, contrary to many castle that were converted into museums. It is also the largest and arguably most beautiful castle remaining in Japan.
On my next experience in Japan I set Himeji Castle at the top of my bucket list. On a warm summer’s day I set out from Kobe to the Himeji by rail. Exiting the station, I set off down the main road. At the road’s end stood Himeji Castle, ascending like some glorious statuesque mountain of white marble. The backdrop of the brilliant azure summer sky seemed almost dull in comparison. This is why they call the castle the White Crane.
Even on a week day this monument drew admirers. Passing through the outer gate I noted the children, the bohemians, and the fellow tourists. Greetings were made by an actor styled as a ninja. Photos were taken depicting my untimely demise. I entered the outer courtyard, ringed with cherry trees. Even out of bloom the trees painted a tranquil landscape in emerald and auburn. The courtyard was dotted with couples and pet owners. Dogs frolicked in the grass while one unique sight caught my eye.
A tall, young, Japanese man with a thin goatee, in khaki shorts, white polo, and fisherman’s hat stood excitedly encouraging his pet. “Banzai!” he would shout, throwing his arms in the air. “Ganbare!” he exclaimed as his little pet turtle trotted along carefree.
I don’t know why this man chose to bring his turtle to Himeji Castle. At the same time, I don’t know any reason he shouldn’t. Perhaps his turtle was lethargic at home. Maybe he feared his turtle grew depressed and needed inspiration. I like to believe that is the case. I like to believe he brought his turtle to the castle and said “Look at this my hard shelled friend. This castle has stood for hundreds of years. It is the jewel of our city. Just because you have a hard shell, does not mean you must have a hard heart.” Seeing this, the turtle elated. He saw a kindred spirit and a senpai in the castle.
He saw something to aspire toward.
Living in a foreign country can be strange. It can be exciting and stressful, confusing and enlightening, depressing and uplifting. The experience is unique for everyone and unique in itself. This is my third time in Japan; my second time living here. My last visit was a whirlwind of excitement and without question the best vacation I ever had. My first time living here – despite its troubles – is still something I look back on positively.
There’s nothing like the first time. Everything is new. Everything is different. The discovery of similarities to your native land are as exciting as discovering the differences. One can easily become jaded and complacent as an adult. Having the simplest experiences feel novel is a refreshing return to youth. Best of all you have others to share this with, like grade school playmates. They, too, are finding this same elation and want to share it with you. Nick – my former partner in crime- commented accurately that living in Japan is like being a child again. You can barely communicate, you understand very little and comprehending something new feels like a great triumph. Everything is a first.
The second time is not the first, nor does it hold the same excitement. I suppose that goes without saying. I did something uncommon in leaving and coming back. As a result I have a very different context than other people I meet. The every day minutia is not as exciting to me as it is my coworkers, for whom it is their first time in Japan. I also am not settled into the country the way those who are second or third year ALTs are settled. Consequently I often feel I have trouble relating to other foreigners here. This is improving, but it is a frustrating place to be. Excited as I was to return, the second time around is different.
The second stage of culture shock is the Negotiation Phase. The former feelings of elation fade to frustration and anger from displeasing encounters. Having lived in Japan before I thought myself exempt from such shock, but obviously I was wrong. I entered into this situation with a lot of expectations that were not fulfilled. What I am left with is not bad, but in my arrogance I sometimes blind myself to the good around me. In knowing and wanting something else I miss what is there. When I knew not, I wanted not and grabbed hold of each experience. Truly, ignorance is bliss.
I will adapt again. I know this. I also know that the friends I have now who I can relate to are something special.I learned that the last time as well. When you go back home, it’s like you’ve left a part of yourself behind. You want the best of both worlds. You will always feel split between them. You see how much has changed in your home and in your friends. But the biggest change is the hardest to see. That is the change in yourself. You share something special with the friends you go through that with, or friends you meet who have also gone through that. You understand each other in ways most people won’t. This isn’t a bond made with everyone, but the few people it is made with it are priceless.
This past weekend I ventured to Osaka. Not an uncommon event as I live rather close to it. Since moving out here I go to Osaka about once a month. Yet this trip had purpose. The Tenjin Matsuri, one of the big three, was held at the Tenman Shrine. The parade is supposed to be one of the best in all Japan. And I love me a good parade. Despite my intentions, I missed the parade. Misdirection from a large flow of people plus misinformation about when the parade was from my hotel put me at the wrong side of the shrine when the time came. Oh well, just more reason to go again next year.
The trip wasn’t a total loss. Nick and his friend Derek came down to Osaka for their summer break. Tara, Kana and Shogo came for Saturday as well. Erin and Dave from training made it up for Sunday. In each group there was one form of fun to be had or another. We did our fair share of shopping, window and actual. Perusing Osaka for its intricacies is always fun, and the festival was of course on our agenda. There were several goals for the weekend, with the exception of the parade, were all achieved.
After the parade itself our main goal was to keep cool in the intense heat of an Osakan summer. This is large part of why I didn’t seek out the parade more actively: it was just too hot. While the humidity passed for the most part at the end of June, Osaka still feels like a furnace. What shocked me most is the heat at night. Out in the countryside, once the sunsets the temperature cools. Osaka keeps the same heat all day. Must be all the concrete, neon and cars.
To keep cool we kept ourselves watered during the day and imbibed at night. For as often as I travel to Osaka I don’t know the night scene as well as I would like to. We set out to discover knew watering holes, and discover we did. We found a Suntory whiskey bar named Old Bar, fitting as the median age was fifty. We followed with a girl’s bar named Hide and Seek, somewhere I entered only for the name and stayed in out of curiosity. The prices didn’t justify staying longer. Traveling to America-mura led us to a Junk Jack, a pirate themed bar where all the drinks are priced three hundred and thirty yen. Forthse reasons this bar has a special place in my heart. We finished with a karaoke bar called Turning Point, where all the patrons were as sociably drunk as we were. Did I mention this was all in one night? We returned around 3am.
Saturday morning was a special treat, the lack of sleep not including. The friend of a friend gave me tickets to the National Bunraku Theater, and so I was able to see my first buraku show. Bunraku is a Japanese puppetry, something beautiful and intricate. The puppets and set pieces are as beautifully crafted as the stories. The narrator sings the story, accompanied by a shamisen, and in the case of one piece we saw, a chorus of narrators and shamisen ring in the story in chorus. Quite a sight to behold. Earphones with English translations were provided, but the translator merely stated what was going to happen before it happened in a dull tone. Quite the disappointing contrast.
The festival itself was hot, crowded and a lot of fun. People in special festival garb, yukata and jimbei all around. At night they lit the lanterns around the shrine (done only for festivals,) played taiko and performed the dragon dance. Along the side streets were stalls with festival foods, toys and games for the children. Topping it all of was a large fireworks display at sunset.
There’s something about the energy at a festival I’ll always love; one I love moreso when it’s not obscenely hot. This is just more reason I need to go to more festivals, and I plan to do just that. I have my vacation coming up, and Dana’s coming around soon. Should be a good a time as any to go festival hunting. More stories and photos soon…
The month of June was quite a busy one for me. There was not a weekend I was not up to something and out of town. In simple list format:
I’ve already written about the great scooter license debacle that took me to Akashi the second weekend in June.
The third weekend in June took me to Tokyo, which I will write about later.
And the second weekend in June saw me in Osaka.
The trip to Osaka was to see a friend of mine before she leaves the country for another two or three years. A Japanese native and recent graduate of UC Berkeley, whom I met in the town of the university’s namesake, will soon be leaving Japan to attend graduate school in Toronto. I’ve warned her to be prepared for much cooler whether than she is used to. It seems just as she’s returned to Japan she’s traveling off to another strange foreign land. Truly, for a Japanese gone Californian, there is no land stranger than Canada.
While an enjoyable day, it’s not a very entertaining one to report on. We were accompanied by two of her friends she’s known since junior high school. They were a bit quiet at first, since they don’t speak English and my Japanese is pretty terrible. We found a small yet amazing tempura place just outside of Namba. Afterward we sought out bowling, but passed on the idea when we were told the wait was two hours long. In a facility that has two floors of bowling and over fifty lanes. I guess bowling is popular in Osaka. Instead we did a little shopping, hit Loft, and shook hands with a visiting politician trolling for votes. Election seasons are the same everywhere.
The girls had never shopped at Thank You Mart before, so I made it a point we go there. An eclectic store, but eclectic is good. Everyone found something they liked. I even found a few pairs of shoes that I am now using at my school. When we left the store it had begun raining, so I picked up a blue umbrella with hearts on it. The girls did not find it as funny as I did when I started singing “Linda Linda” quietly after opening it. I still do that every time it rains. We finished the day with okonomiyaki at a local restaurant, and the three ladies headed home. I still had plans to meet up with a friend I made at training, so I remained.
I met up with Evan and some of his friends and headed to a pub to watch the World Cup game. Japan versus the Netherlands. Like most red blooded Americans, I couldn’t really give two hoots about soccer. But the atmosphere at the pub, packed to the brim, was electric. The game was intense, and I hadn’t felt such emotion watching a sports game since I watched the Red Sox in ’04. The Japanese like their soccer. No questioning that, and it made for good times.
To look at him you wouldn’t think it, but Evan is quite the geek. Possibly more so than. This may be why we get on fairly well. Both being New Englander’s can’t hurt either. So when he asked me “Hey, would you like to go to a Cosplay party after this?” My response was “…Yes. That is something that sounds uniquely Japanese, and I want to look back and be able to say ‘Hey, remember that time I went to that cosplay party in Osaka?'” Even if turned out not to be a good experience, it promised to be a memorable one. Although the thought did cross my mind “But I have nothing to wear…” though as a foreigner I think I could get away with it. People stop me far too often and say “Oh! Nicholas Cage!” as it is. May as well work it to my favor.
After the World Cup match was over, Japan sadly defeated, we met up with a few of Evan’s other friends. We debated what to do, bars or clubs. They were not as into the Cosplay idea as Evan and I were. The long line and three thousand yen cover were the final nails in the coffin. We opted out and hit a few bars instead. Not terrible by any means, but a missed experience. Still good times had in Osaka as always.
There should be another Cosplay Party coming up in August. I’m not sure the details yet, but I’m going to make an effort to go. I simply hope it doesn’t fall on one of my travel days. I’d like to be in town for this. Until I know, I will prepare my costume and ready my camera. I’ve already made a few promises for photos from the event. Oh Japan.
Karaoke is a thing that a love. Sadly, in the town I live in we have no karaoke. There are no karaoke bars, no karaoke parlors, not even drunken men wailing away on their late night commutes home. Though I’ve had the opportunity to sing along at some of B. Polpo’s dance parties, it’s not quite the same. Thankfully, this all changed last night.
Let’s start with how I got here. Two weeks ago I was having a drink at B. Polpo, as I often do on Fridays. In an e-mail my friend and former language partner Kenji told me I should go on a gokon. This is in response to… well I’m not sure what it was in response to. He and his wife just had a child so I think he wants me to settle down too. I’m pretty sure my mother would like Kenji. In any case, I only vaguely knew what a gokon was, so I asked my friends at B. Polpo about it. They of course interpreted this as a request to be set up on a gokon, which I’m not sure I would want. Even if I did, I don’t know any of the drinking games associated so I’m sure it would be a disaster. But it might be fun to do once. Just for the experience.
Three young women enter, former students of one of my friends and Japanese teachers. Since they enter mid gokon conversation, I am encouraged to join them. My friend Kohei joins me, and I am introduced to Yuriko, Nagisa and Asami. They speak a little English, but our conversation is primarily in Japanese, and starts with me asking them to explain gokon to me. As the night wears on, Kouhei succumbs to alcohol lethargy, and heads to another part of the bar to take a nap. As an aside, I love that you can do that here. And drink in public. Carrying on, the conversation lead to karaoke, my desire to go, my lamentation that there is none in Kato, and me drunkenly singing a few lines of Lindbergh’s 今すぐKiss Me and The Blue Heart’s Linda Linda.
While there is no karaoke in Kato, there is in Nishiwaki- the town directly north of me. The town where these ladies live. I was invited to come sing karaoke with them in two weeks time. They would pick me up in their car, and we would make a night of it. How could I say no?
Last night we made our way to a Maneki Neko Karaoke parlor. We crooned for three hours, the first of which was nomihodai (all you can drink) and had a delightful array of snacks. We did our best to sing songs in both our own and each other’s native language. I spent part of the past two weeks studying some Japanese songs but my skills there are still a bit weak. I was able to transfer some lyrics onto my DS in romaji and use that in a pinch. They found this quite clever, even though it still didn’t help me much. Regardless the ladies think I have an excellent singing voice. We all had a wonderful time, and I’m looking forward to seeing them again. A night of karaoke was exactly what I needed.
If I were to refer to this past weekend as expensive, I don’t think that would be accurate. I put aside 23,000 yen for initial two weeks in Tokyo, hoping that to last me until settling into Kato city. That might have worked if I did nothing the entire two weeks, but having friends means we go and do stuff. How terrible.
Friday night Nick, his housemate Ben and I met up with Junichi and five of his coworkers by Hachiko in Shibuya for dinner and drinks. I invited two of my fellow Interac recruits to join as well, but they were not able to make it. A shame that, as the okonomiyaki restaurant we went to was kind of awesome. 2,500 yen each bought us three rounds of different types of make-it-yourself okonomiyaki and nomihodai (all-you-can-drink.) Trying to figure out how you make each style was entertaining in itself, and made a good getting to know you game with Junichi’s coworkers.
Despite everyone in the group speaking varying levels of Japanese and English, communication had a rough start at first. However, I’m reminded of the placard for Kirin City, the Japanese equivalent of T.G.I. Friday’s, which reads “Beer communication.” There is truth in that.After a few beers we were all much more talkative. How much we actually understood, that’s questionable. We finished the night at a small standing bar where Junichi bought the last round. Despite it being Friday, we needed to head home before the Sobu line turned into a pumpkin. Calling it quits at 11pm, we made plans for Sunday.
With gorgeous weather, Nick, Ben and I started our day with a trip to Good Day Books in Ebisu. The two of them had some literature to trade in for new reads. I was fortunate to find a book on the Kansai dialect for rather cheap. Now I may actually be able to understand what people say to me in Hyogo. Doubtful though.
Finishing our book shopping, we took a stroll along the streets of Ebisu, noting its sophisticated and relaxing atmosphere. We eventually found ourselves at the Ebisu Garden Place, and decided on an early afternoon beer at the Ebisu Beer Station. After a good drink and healthy mocking of the excessive Nicholas Cage “Bad Lieutenant” posters, we made our way to Shinjuku.
I suppose it’s appropriate that Nick’s goal in Shinjuku was to buy cigars, as Shinjuku’s Kabuchi-cho is know as a center for vice. I was amused that the name of the cigar store was the same as the bar we intended to patronize for the evening. After picking up some light Cuban cigars and cloves (both of which perfectly legal in Japan) we made our way to our final destination for the evening: Shimbashi.
Meeting Junichi and one of his coworkers at Shimbashi station, we made our way to Kagaya, only to find it closed on Sundays. In retrospect, I should have expected that. We instead made our way to a nice katsu restaurant. Following that, two rounds at a standing izakaya near the station made me feel like I was thrown into an episode of the Yakuza Papers. The small, drab but traditional smoke filled room had a lot of atmosphere and no atmosphere all at once. The rotary pay phone was also a nice touch. This is the sort of thing I would not try on my own, but with Junichi makes for a fun exploration of everyday Japanese living. We finished off the evening with karaoke at Bow Wow Karaoke parlor. The place has a surprisingly good selection and prices, but sadly no nomihodai. A trip to the combini solves that issue, and we rocked the night away with A-ha, Muse, Blue Hearts, Base Ball Bear, Bump of Chicken and Beck.
Between food, trains, books, drinks and karaoke I spent 10,000 yen Sunday alone. Considering how much I did, that’s not a lot of money. I can’t really call Sunday expensive, but I have to watch my budget from now on. Especially since I have a date with Erina tomorrow, lunch with Yumemi and birthday dinner for Ben on Thursday, and I hope to do karaoke with Taiki on Friday. I should rely a bit more on my credit card where I can. Honestly though, I can’t put a price on good times.
Generally I don’t like to be awoken at 7am. For any reason. But when the Fed Ex woman arrived with my Certificate of Eligibility, I was able to force a smile. At least I get to wake up to something new.
I recently joined the Interac 2010 facebook group. I figure it will be a good way to get to know some of the people in my company who are in similar boats to my own. In this case I suppose boat is a metaphor for island, both of of which are surrounded by water. Where was I going with this?
Right. Meeting people. I’ve been trying to spend more time with Hisashi, Tadao, Kenji and Masayuki before I leave but regrettably their work has kept them rather busy. Now that I know where I am teaching they are making plans to visit me after they return. They won’t be coming straight to Kato city, but there’s always something worth doing in Kansai that we can meet for. Junichi and I are making plans to meet up for dinner and drinks in Tokyo after I arrive, and I’m going to try to get coffee with Yumemi before I head off to Osaka as well. Nick and I are batting around ideas of what to do while not spending much money. We want to go to Ageha again, but that’s difficult to do with out dropping some bank. Karaoke maybe? There are always people at East House II to do stuff with, just a matter of what to do…
Speaking of, I should write an e-mail to Rika and Masaki. Rika is one of the house mothers at East House II, the guest house where Nick lives. She’s very kind, speaks excellent English and is a lot of fun. I should probably send off another round of post cards to the guys at East House II as well. I’m excited to see them all again. Masaki I met at a church in Kobe. He’s a Japanese American expatriated to Kobe, very intelligent and kind. I’m hoping to go back to that church in Kobe again… I just can’t remember the name of it or how to get there. I’m sure Masaki can help with this, and he’s someone I’d like to get and keep in touch with in any case. It will be good to know some people near where I live, and if they are brothers and sisters in Christ, all the better.
Next week is my last week of work. I have two shoots scheduled all week, versus the two I usually have on a slow day. I’m sure I’ll be able to find some time on Monday to submit my passport for my work visa.