Short Stories From Japan

Ginza: We went to the Mac store in Ginza and Austin was taking a picture of the outside of the building on a busy street. While he was taking the picture a crowd of people stopped on either side of him so that he could get a clear shot. He lowered the camera for a moment and the crowd started to move, but then he raised the camera again and the crowd instantaneously stopped. Hilarious and indicative of the culture.

Imperial Palace: We were hanging out in the Imperial Palace parking lot when a bunch of riders on horses and a Subaru come out of one of the gates. We had no idea what was going on and thought maybe the horses were escorting the car somewhere. But they just kept trotting/driving around the parking lot, so we decided maybe they were exercising the horses – but then why the Subaru? So then we decided that they were exercising the car – but then why the horses? As the horses re-entered the palace gates, the Subaru stayed behind and the driver hopped out with a broom and what appeared to be a large dustpan. He then proceeded to sweep horse-shit off the parking lot grounds and put it into the car and drove to the next pile of shit, where the process was repeated. If a Subaru is good enough for the imperial horses’ shit, it’s good enough for you.

Tokyo-Hiroshima: For the record, it is possible to make it from Tokyo to Hiroshima in one day for about $20 by train.

Harujuku: ::weeps in shame:: Starbucks’ green tea frappucinos are to die for. And I want a hat, trendy sunglasses, cool clothes and a hot-pink cell phone. Fuck. I’m genuinely in danger of becoming a cute Japanese girl (sorry Justin).

Hiroshima: I’d be hard-pressed to say that my time spent in Hiroshima was “fun,” but it was extremely meaningful. I was really impressed by the Peace Memorial Park and the museum. There was an exhibit full of belongings of mobilized students who died when the atomic bomb was dropped. There were charred lunch-boxes with the blackened remains of the lunch still in them. There were bloodstained clothes that had to be cut off the bodies of the children after they died. One mother saved the fingernail and skin that had melted off the hand of her son. They had a model of what the city looked like before the bombing and after – with the exception of maybe five buildings, the entire city was wiped out. There was also a pillar that had over 500 letters of protest from the various mayors of Hiroshima (over the years) to various world leaders asking that the testing, production and possession of nuclear weapons be stopped. There were several letters to Bush in 2004 alone.

Himeji: We arrived too late to actually go into the castle, but ::damn:: that thing is impressive. It’s ginormous. Himeji is the only castle in Japan that has not had to be rebuilt and is also considered to be the most beautiful castle in Japan. The stones used to build the walls were collected from all over the prefecture and many were donated by peasants from their own streets or homes. Some of these rocks are fucking huge. Check out the picture of Austin standing next to one of them – it’s almost as tall as him!

Japan: Thirsty? Hungry? Need a cigarette? How about a beer? Or a camera? Or batteries for that matter? Don’t worry, you’re probably about 10 feet away from a vending machine that sells one of these items. These things are strategically placed so that just about the time you finish your drink/food/whatever, there is another vending machine where you can buy a replacement. I have to admit, I’ve fallen prey to this trap – my goal is try one of each kind of drink in these machines. My favorites so far are Kirin Lemon and Royal Milk Tea. I suppose I shouldn’t forget to mention the machines at train stations that serve hot food. Yes, that’s right, the machine microwaves the food for you after you make your selection. Today we got French fries and onigiri (rice balls). The French fries were not so good, but the onigiri were “choice.”

Nikko: There is a little restaurant that serves these great little meatballs. Totemo oishikattadesuyo. The owner was actually making fun of us because we were eating so much. We told her, “amerika-jin da kara” (it’s because we’re Americans). She and the other customers enjoyed that. Oddly enough, while we were there we shared a table with two Israelis during the course of our meal. One was a middle-aged man who was on vacation and is currently living in Israel and working at a JC. The other was a grad-student at Stanford (don’t worry, he only went to Princeton for under-grad) who lived in Israel when he was younger. His family now lives in New Jersey and he swims competitively and is apparently quite good (he used to swim breast and now he swims fly – I told him all about your breast and fly escapades, Kat. He sympathizes with your shoulder issues).

Kyoto: For those of you wondering about the earthquakes – we’re fine. We were out having a cigarette in the alley when the ryokan fell down. Luckily we were able to extract our luggage from the rubble (just kidding – they lasted a long time but the force was roughly equivalent to someone jumping on a trampoline in the next room). At any rate, my souvenirs from Kyoto consist of a couple of hand-drawn maps, a business card holder, a shouyu dish, a towel and about 25 bug bites, most of which are concentrated around the ankles. But back to those maps. We were lost and Austin had run off looking for the street we were supposed to be on and I was baby-sitting our bags when I decided, “hey, let’s ask this guy for directions.” So I did. And he was very nice and helpful. He drew me a map and stuck to simple vocabulary and after about 10 minutes I understood where I should be going. There were, of course, some miscommunications. For example, he asked me if I understood hiragana and I managed to give my best deer-in-the-headlights impression and said no. It wasn’t until after he was trying to remember how to write “ki” in romaji that I realized what he had actually asked. It was a similar story with the guy in the Starbucks who was trying to explain to me where the nearest Internet café was. It was pretty exciting stuff. Not to mention I’m getting really good at reading little hand-drawn maps.

Public Restrooms: Most public restrooms are rows of stalls with little hole-in-the-ground toilets in them. And most of them have toilet paper dispensers. However, hardly any of them have toilet paper. But they do have sound synthesizers that play “inspiring” nature sounds in the stalls. I feel like money is being mismanaged somewhere along the line.

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