Japan, part 1

Heh, haven’t posted anything on here in forever, doubt anyone still reads this, but whatever… This is the first of (hopefully) a few posts about this trip. It would be nice if I got back to posting more than once a year. Anyways, we are currently on vacation in Japan. Staying in Kyoto after a short stay in Osaka…

In Osaka, we spent 2 days, the first was a day of orientation where we went and got the shinkansen tickets to get to Tokyo later, I got an IC card for the trains (which is much easier), and then we explored the Umeda area (where we were staying). We checked out some of the malls and wondered around the area (and found this covered shopping street). It is really a different country, different in how people act around one another, different in how restaurants operate, different in how malls are set up and operated, and different in how people do their shopping. Having been here before, it still takes some adjustment to begin to operate and thrive in such a wildly different culture. Osaka was a good entry point into this culture as it lacks the bustle of Tokyo and the cultural style and rustic roots of Kyoto.

Our second day in Osaka, we wanted to go to Kobe and have some real Kobe beef. Kim did some research and had a list of a few places and we opted for the area around one of the stations. We got there early and explored the area and decided on a place. While waiting for it to open, we played some Taiko at an arcade and then explored Tokyu Hands (a DIY store common in Japan). There we found some of these little tea containers that where similar to one I purchased 4 years ago and I really liked, so we bought a few to store our other loose leaf tea in. The lunch was hibachi style, and the beef was super tender. It was not a lot, but that is more of a cultural thing with meal sizes than it was with the place we chose. I could have done with probably twice the serving size, but when in Rome, ya know? In the afternoon, we went to visit the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum. There we got to make our own cup noodles, mine has a curry stock with roast pork, shrimp, green onions, and garlic chips. Before dinner, we visited (what Kim claims) is the first cat cafe in Osaka, where we spent an hour amusing ourselves with the cats they had (there was one who looked very similar to Deedee and had her demeanor).

our custom cup noodles (mine is the left one)

While we are in Japan, the annual spring high school baseball tournament has been going on. It is held at the Koshien stadium (home to the NPB Tigers), for which it is often referred to as. Kim has been amused by my annoyance with the Japanese style of baseball and my sarcastic predictions of what is about to happen (and usually it is correct). The pitching style is pure hard pitches with little control and variance in pitch style. Coaches/managers will play the same pitcher for a whole game, regardless of his condition (watched one play the same kid for 15 innings, even after getting knocked around a few times). The blind use of the sacrifice bunt (even having the 3 or 4 hole guys bunt a runner to second) is also particularly frustrating. But it is also baseball, and it is being played in a country that loves the game. So I have it on almost all the time.

We then went to Kyoto, the old capital of the country. It is very rich in tradition with a lot of temples and shrines (temples are usually Buddhist and the shrines are usually for Shinto). After arriving, we went and saw a nearby temple that is supposed to be the largest wooden structure and the center of a Japanese sect of Buddhism. It is a very impressive structure with the architecture that is very east Asian, much like the stuff we saw while in Seoul (albeit much less colorful). The wood struts are particularly awesome, along with the really nice tile roofing they use all over Kyoto. Due to the cold winter, it seems like the sakura will not be in full bloom while we are in Japan, which adds a sort of sourness to most of the scenery, as there are a lot of sakura trees with buds waiting to be released.

entrance to the temple grounds

The first full day in Kyoto, we went Nishiki market, this long food oriented market street. We tried a bunch of different things, Kim really liked the pickled stuff in one shop, we will probably go back and get some before leaving Kyoto. After lunch, we went across the river into Gion, the district known for Geisha/Maiko. It was raining a lot, so we didn’t do too much exploring, but we did walk down the main road where the geisha houses are located. Many of the compounds are amazing looking with ornate front gates and small gardens inside that peak over the front fence. At the end of the road, there is a really awesome Zen Buddhist temple called Kenninji that we went into and explored. There was a nice meditation garden and a very beautiful grounds to walk around and see. The main hall has this amazing ceiling mural of twin dragons.

the zen rock garden

We went to Fushimi Inari on our second day. It is a very iconic temple, seen in many movies, and known for the many torii that are donated by businesses (the shrine is considered the main shrine for the patron of business in Shinto). This lends to some amazing places where you walk through a sort of red hallway in the middle of this lush green landscape on a mountain side in a southern Kyoto neighborhood. The issue with visiting it is how popular and crowded it is. But man is it something to behold. After visiting the shrine, we took a train up to Gion and visited the main shrine there. I then went up to see the Kiyomizu dera temple, which is known for this amazing visual along the main hall, overlooking Kyoto. There are many great shots of it and they work in just about any season. The view was amazing and there are some awesome shopping streets leading up to the temple. Sadly, Kim was feeling tired, so she stuck back and hung out in a coffeeshop in Gion.

the torii hallway, sans people

Yesterday, we went to western Kyoto, an area called Arashiyama, which I wanted to visit to see this awesome bamboo grove. Like just about everywhere else we have gone in Kyoto, it is crowded as hell, but looked amazing as well. The grove is really a sight to behold with the almost pure green colors and tranquil path through the trees. Before (or after going through the grove) we visited this beautiful Zen Buddhist temple called Tenryuji that had some very amazing looking gardens and this really incredible looking Japanese garden. I am of the mind to eventually have a Japanese style garden whenever we have a house, but it is probably too much work and the mood will pass.