This is Life

Monday, April 16, 2007

Never Too Late

So, now that I have my decision behind me I have had no trouble putting the weight back on. Actually, I am not sure if I ever did slim down at all from that very stressful February, but my diet is really struggling now. Besides that, the hockey season is now over so my one legitimate excuse for being on a diet is gone. I may actually have to go back to eating the junior high school lunch, whale soup and all. Speaking of which, a buddy of mine was invited to a sushi bar by a friend of his. His Japanese friend challenged him to eat some raw horse (tastes like beef, by the way) and after he downed it he was informed that it was, in fact, whale heart. Apparently, it tasted like any other strange, chewy, red meat. No thanks.

No, as for what I have been up to, well, it seems like every single weekend there is something on the go. I think I have been averaging at least 300 kms on my car every weekend and that is no small feat when you consider how long it takes to get 300 kms in Japan. You are looking at twice the time that it would take in Canada.

I went to a doll festival. Moving on.

I went to a Japanese prostitute festival. Moving on.

Now that I think about it, perhaps some information is in order. The doll festival was held in a town famous for them (naturally) and the dolls themselves are quite unique. Many of them are over 100 years old and can cost considerable amounts of money due to the elaborate costumes they wear and the details the craftsmen gives them. The town is also famous for its salmon so many of the buildings displaying the dolls also house rafters full of salmon that are hung up to dry. It is really creepy. Oddly enough, it smells like fish. All said, the festival was very interesting ... if you like that sort of thing. I found it pretty boring, but had a good time because we went to a nice hot spring and I met one of my girlfriend`s best friends, which was nice.

As for the Japanese prostitute parade, well, it is just that, except the women are basically re-enacting something you may have seen over 100 years ago. You have heard of geisha, no doubt, well these women are called "Oiran". On the surface, Oiran and Geisha may appear to be the same, but geisha are distinguished in that their role was not sexual, while the Oiran were most definitely prostitutes, albeit it very, very high-class prostitutes. There are also some visual hints as to which is which, but you can check out this article if you are interested. Anyway, what makes this an interesting event is that these women are the peacocks of Japanese culture. Their costumes are so elaborate and their unique style of walking (on 6-inch platforms) make this a very unique event. It should be pointed out that the women are not actual Oiran, but rather they are women from the town chosen to reinact the event and trained in the artforms. If you are interested in learning more about geisha then have a look at this site. It is really interesting. I`ve decided to try to do my part in educating the public that Geisha were NOT prostitutes.

Ok, really moving on this time. On March 31st I went to Tokyo to meet my dad and little brother Ethan at the airport. They came to visit me for 9 days and we had a blast. Let me give you a rundown of what we did. First, we went straight to the closet we rented and slept through the night. Actually, it wasn`t so bad, but it was a tight fit with 2.5 beds. The next morning we decided to get up nice and early and go see the chaos and wonder of the world`s largest fish market, Tsukiji market (click here for photo essay). I think it would have been really interesting had there been a single soul there. I guess Japan doesn`t need fresh fish on Sunday or someone was playing a great practical joke on us, but we were pretty disappointed no one was there. We thought about going to see the sumo district, but I was pretty sure nothing would be happening there on a Sunday morning either. Our back up plan was Starbucks, but who would have guessed, it too was closed. It was 9:00 in the morning and Starbucks wasn`t open yet!? Doesn`t that break some sort of franchising rule? Anyway, thankfully it was a beautiful day so we went to Shinjuku Gyoen (royal garden) to view the cherry blossoms. We were very blessed throughout our vacation to see much of Japan during the notoriously difficult to predict cherry blossom season. While the blossoms were not quite full everywhere we went, they were pretty close so we consider ourselves very fortunate. As far as I am concerned, aside from the Aurora, cherry blossoms are the most beautiful (and contemplative) occurrence in God`s creation. Finally, we were able to go to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo before catching our bullet train to Hiroshima at 2 pm. Quite a full, yet relaxing morning, if I remember right.

On our way to Hiroshima we passed by Mt. Fuji and despite it being overcast were were afforded quite a nice view. As famous as Fuji-san is, few people actually see it because it is always shrouded in cloud, haze, or a giant tutu. After an 850km bullet train trip (only took 5 hours and that wasn`t the fastest train either), we arrived in Hiroshima around 7, managed to find our hotel, and before I knew it my jet-lagged companions were fast asleep. I watched an Angela Aki (the Japanese Sarah Mclachlin) concert on tv to pass some time. I also checked out the tide schedule and am happy to use this brilliant segue to talk about our next day. Next to Hiroshima is a island called Miyajima. The image of Miyajima`s famous floating shinto gates is famous in Japan, as well as abroad, and this island turned out to be one of the most pleasant places we visited. After spending the morning there we headed back to Hiroshima to visit one place that everyone should have to visit. It was not a pleasant experience to go to the Peace Memorial Park and the museum, but it was the most important place we saw. The museum is very informative and graphic and it is a vital reminder of the cruelty that humans can put each other true. I am not going to weigh in on whether it was justified or not, but the sheer power of the atomic bomb is horrifying. The fact that those bombs are mere firecrackers compared to what the superpowers currently possess is not a comforting thought. I hate to sound cynical, but it is not a matter of if, but when.

Now that I you are thoroughly depressed, let`s talk about castles. The morning after Hiroshima - which I would like to add, is one of the most beautiful and spacious cities in Japan - we hopped on a bullet train to Himeji, home to Japan`s most famous castle. Now, I had been to Japan`s second most famous castle last year when I visited Matsumoto (see the archives) and I was thoroughly impressed, but Himeji makes Matsumoto look like a doll house. This castle is just massive and it would take days to explore all of its hidden treasures. Combine this with the fact that the cherry blossoms were looking fine and you have one cool place. It turned out to be Ethan`s favorite spot in Japan (I will qualify that statement later). From there we went to Osaka and visited what is widely considered the best aquarium in Japan, a land that loves aquariums. The Osaka Kaiyukan Aquarium is impressive, but the people who think it is the best have clearly not been to the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, which houses not one, but three whale sharks behind the world`s largest acrylic panel. That, was an impressive aquarium. It is also the second largest in the world. Osaka is in the top 5, I think. Anyway, Osaka`s jellyfish area was cool. Since we didn`t take nearly as long as expected to view the aquarium, we decided to go to an imax 3d film at the neighboring theatre. Guess we couldn`t get enough sea creatures because the film was also set underwater. By the way, if you have never been to an Imax 3d you really should - awesome technology! In the evening we tried to find a nice restaurant to take my pops for his 80th - I mean, 60th - birthday (couldn`t resist). We found a nice Indian restaurant and I think my dad was pleasantly surprised by how good it was. And here I would also like to announce perhaps the biggest success of out trip, my little brother actually discovered a new food that he will eat. Thank you Curry Man for tingling his taste buds just the right way. You are part of a very, very ... very exclusive club (love ya, bro). Happy Birthday, dad. One interesting thing we noticed is that both my mom and dad have been in Japan to celebrate their birthdays this past year. My mom in November and my dad in April. Kind of cool, if you ask me.

The next day (Wednesday, April 4th for those who are counting) was another early-riser. We wanted to beat the crowds at Universal Studios Japan and once we got there we realized that was never going to happen. It being spring break in Japan and all, I suppose that crowds were inevitable. Thankfully, we never had to wait too long (only once did we wait more than an hour - for Back to the Future) so it wasn`t so bad. Unfortunately, much like my experience at Tokyo DisneySea, it was bleedin` windy, which was enough to convince the three of us to pack it in sometime around 3PM. Considering it cost $60 per person I suppose we could have toughed it out, but we had hit most of the rides by then and were ready to go anyway. By the way, the Spiderman ride was pretty cool and so was the Shrek 4d experience. Nothing like getting sneezed on by donkey and actually feeling it. It was nice to finish this day with a fine steak dinner. Thing is, we were staying in the young, trendy, bizarre area of Osaka and the local cuisine is a must-try, but my dad and bro weren`t up for okonomiyaki (a sort of egg, cabbage, everything else you can imagine omelet) or takoyaki (grilled octopus balls ... no, David Yang, not octopus testicles). They are both quite good.

Thursday we (I) decided to go to Kyoto (my favorite city in Japan) to see some of Japan`s most famous sites and in particular, the cherry blossoms. We were lucky enough to be in Kyoto during one of the only times of the year that the Imperial Palace is open to the public. This is where the Imperial Family lived for 700 years or so before the capital was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. Next we went to the Golden Pavillion (Kinkakuji) to see what is probably Japan`s most famous site, a temple covered in gold. It is much nicer than my Toyota Corolla, but maybe that is a completely irrelevant comparison ... or is it? Around noon we went to the Philosopher`s Path, which would be one of the most romantic places in Japan, were it not for the utter and complete lack of privacy. Yeah, there are throngs of people. It is a wonder more don`t fall into the stream. Nevertheless, it is truly breathtaking and I am so glad that I have been able to visit it twice during the fall colors season and now once during the cherry blossoms. It is impossible to pick which is best. After that, it was back to Osaka for one last night in the hotel that smelled like smoke in the lobby, something bizarre in the hallway, fine in the room, but reeked of kerosene in the bathroom. Oh well, great location and decent price. Can`t complain.

Our next destination was Muikamachi, which is the town I lived in last year and is in Niigata, on the opposite coast of Japan as Osaka and a good bit north. I think it is about 550kms or so, but the bullet trains don`t run on that side of Japan yet so we had to use an express train instead. They are almost as comfortable, but much cheaper (a little slower). We had a ten-minute stopover/transfer about halfway and that is usually plenty of time because the trains in Japan are always on time. Except this time. I assume that someone attempted suicide (probably successfully) somewhere between Osaka and Kyoto because that is where we were delayed. This caused us to miss our connection and we ended up being 2 hours late. Oh well. Made for a long day though.

On Saturday I had a hockey tournament in a town about 2 hours away. I scored the winner in a shutout in the first game and then my increasingly fragile body (is it because I don`t eat enough vegetables?) sustained a back injury in the second game. I finished that game, but could barely walk the next day so I elected not to play. They were able to pull it out without me and finished third, which I think everyone would admit was beyond our expectations. Seriously though, I gotta get this body back into shape. First things first, surgery on the knee in the summer. Then rebuild the body. I am just talking to myself right now.

Anyway, it turned out to be a nice final weekend with minimal stress. We were able to go to a really good Italian restaurant (a rarity in Japan) twice and even got some more cherry blossom viewing in. The best part was that Aya was able to spend more time with my family and she even took Ethan to the arcade and they had a great time. Back to my previous statement about Ethan`s favorite place being Himeji Castle, well, the truth is that his favorite place was Universal Studios. Since that isn`t really Japanese I am not counting it. I am pretty sure that his favorite place was actually the arcade and since he was with Aya I will count it.

The next day was Monday, departure day, and I had to be at work by 8 so we had a taxi come and pick them up and take them directly to the airport ... on the other side of the country. I am not sure how many kms it was, but apparently it wasn`t too bad. It only cost $110 per person, which is a great deal in Japan and the fact that it was stress free easily offsets the extra cost. So, for all of you that are coming to visit me before August, that is my recommendation.

By the way, I realize that this is a really long and at times tedious post with very little originality, but I wanted to get things up to date and it was important that I recounted the trip purely for journal purposes. Congrats on getting this far. Now, go see the pics.


At 2:31 AM, Anonymous Christina said...

holy crap japan is expensive. What's the dish ethan will eat?
i actually did read the entire tome you just wrote, but am electing not to comment on it all for fear that my typing will draw attention to the fact that i am obviously not working.

At 6:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"(grilled octopus balls ... no, David Yang, not octopus testicles). They are both quite good."...I'm glad you enjoyed both the octopus balls and the octopus testicles.

June Duk

At 10:58 PM, Anonymous Peter said...

Nothing since April ! WOWZERS!


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