Monday, June 29, 2009

Ancient Capital Revisited

Things have been especially slow at work lately, with the tests coming up and all. Even today I’m struggling to not go home early like I will in an hour or so to make lunch. One day I made a couple card houses and mini displays on my desk. I probably shouldn’t be advertising that I’m doing nothing when really there is always something I can do, but they seemed to be a big hit, and gave me reasons to explain English sayings like “…fell like a house of cards” and stuff like that. I later used a mini character to play Godzilla and destroy my skyscrapers. It’s tough to be bored if you can play in your mind the whole time.

On Thursday I went and visited my handicapped school to teach a couple lessons. It’s always a pleasure going; I’m not nearly on edge as I used to be. Experience is a good thing that way. The kids started the day with some marathon practice, so we ran/walked a couple laps around the baseball field before coming going to the classroom. I gave a small introduction and we played a small game with foods. It was cool showing pictures of pizza and bacon and explaining how they’re different back home; then explaining poutine. Sharing knowledge is fun.

After this I joined the kids in their pottery class. It was really cool, seeing the process of making some really neat items. We started by painting some finished pieces that were ready for the kiln, and then I got to make my own snack dishes. I made some hexagonal, sukara and leaf shaped plates. Some students made bowls using moving machines while others hand painted. It was really fun. Apparently they sell their finished products later. For my help, I got a large, rectangular shaped dish for sushi and whatever :) I think it’s really cool.

After a delicious lunch at their cafeteria, I taught another class, this time more geared towards music. We did the ‘Hokey Pokey’ and ‘Happy and you know it’ songs. For the most part it was I singing solo and the kids bounced around having a blast. It was fun seeing them come up on stage and dancing with me; feeding off the excited vibe. I felt bad my musical talents are a little limited; I should have got vocalized versions of the songs. After that, I went to the gym and played basketball in my socks with some students. I’m surprised just how much fun it was; being basketball and all. The kids are so cute and try so hard. One girl has a back deformity and there was no way she could throw the basketball high enough to go in, so we helped her out and she loved it. She had such a big smile.

Heart melting aside, that night I got in a car with Richard and Amanda and we went down to my old stomping grounds in Tatsuno to see the annual firefly festival. This year, it didn’t pour rain on us, and my pictures didn’t really turn out at all. It was still pretty magical though; those Japanese bug are much bigger and brighter than what I’ve seen back home. We met up with Erika and her posse too and she was saying how her area back home in the states is over run with these little guys. Those bugs and the magical all-night thunderstorms are reason enough for me to want to visit sometime.

Either way, I thought it was beautiful and quite relaxing, even if there were a lot of people including an old drunkard trying to start a fight. Hooray for new experiences! Now I know how a Japanese fight looks like haha. Mostly nothing going on but cussing and everyone else breaking it up; or holding their expensive camera equipment close to avoid damage. On that note, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a real fight before. Just a couple scuffles I got in with my brother John when we were younger, and even those were hardly fights.

Richard has been bugging me for a while to have a poker night and since people are leaving soon and there will never really be a “good time”, we decided to have one the day of. I messaged people in the morning, and that night it was Richard, Dougal, Amanda, Michelle and I at my place eating pizza and playing poker. It was the girls’ first time, so there were lengthy explanations to go over. I also couldn’t find poker chips anywhere so I settled with some fake money at the dollar store.

Sure enough beginner’s luck came through for Amanda and she won, but I think it’s safe to say we all had fun. Noboru joined us later in the night after his going away party with some co-workers and we moved on to video games after the poker. Somehow I was up until 3 in the morning, which wasn’t the smartest thing because I had to be awake at 6 in the morning for a big weekend. I caught 3 hours of sleep and when I woke up to get my bus, Noboru was still playing video games :) haha I think I got him hooked on that game so we’ll play it after he goes home.

It’s a good thing the bus ride was over 4 hours; I slept the whole time. Well, as well as anyone can sleep on a noisy, moving bus I guess. I was off to meet my friend Noriko. She did a home stay in Canada a while back and her host mom is a friend of my mom’s. We’ve been emailing for a while, but since I suck, I haven’t yet gone to Kyoto, one of the biggest tourist areas in Japan, for a real visit in my two years here. Save for that one-day with my mom last year when it rained non-stop. I’d just be making excuses, but maybe part of that reason was she doesn’t really get a weekend off from her job, only Saturdays and Wednesdays I think.

Finally one email she said how she’s going to take holidays to finally come see me so that was the kick I needed to just go down there already. As luck would have it, she had the whole weekend to show me around too. I forgot my guidebook back home, but we still found fun things to do. At the poker game I asked everyone out of the blue what I should do in Kyoto.

The one thing everyone suggested was Kiyomizu Temple. It’s one of the more famous ones in a city oversaturated with historical goodness. This one had a cool patio overlooking a huge drop out into the forest. I understand why spring and fall are so popular in Kyoto for the color changing and sakura. It’s such a beautiful city. Before we found the temple though, we wandered around nearby cobblestone streets full of charming shops and beautiful girls dressed in kimonos. Those are a rare sight I thought, but quite common around here. I even saw a number of girls dressed like geishas, but Noriko said they weren’t real.

Sure we were lost, but I think cool adventures usually happen by accident. I ate up the alluring character and loved it all. Eventually when we did find that famous restaurant, sure enough there was a line up out the door. This was ok though, as it was a reason to walk around more and find a different place. When we did find a place, I ate some Kyoto tofu, which I thought were pretty good. Normally I hate tofu for its blandness alone, but you got a cool dipper to dunk it in some special Kyoto sauce.

We went to the temple after, and some school kids on excursion asked for a minute of my time. Since I love kids now, at least Japanese ones, I obliged. They asked some questions in some amazing English and we had a little conversation, which I really liked. They asked me to sign some paper wishing for peace or something, and some kids turned to Noriko and asked her if she was my mom.

Ouch! The poor girl, she was flustered. Of course I don’t know how old she is, and the only answer you’ll ever get from someone when you hint at the question is “older than you.” We walked around for a while taking pictures and drinking up the experience. Noriko goes every year for the fall colors and invited me to join her this autumn; I should definitely make the effort. Near the bottom of the temple was a mini waterfall coming out from a shrine. There was a huge line here of people catching the water and drinking it; as it is said to grant your wishes.

After the temple we went back to Kyoto station, but we didn’t really have a plan like I said. I threw out like a dozen ideas, but not too many were sticking or weren’t an option. Like the Beauty and the Beast opera was sold out, or there wasn’t a baseball game that night. We visited a tourist center nearby and for some reason I got stuck on the idea of being on a boat. We went to Uji city near where Noriko lives and went down to the river where we joined a Ukai Fishing event. “Uu” translates into “cormorant” if that clears it up for you… I know it didn’t for me :)

Ukai is an old traditional way of fishing perhaps. I didn’t really understand, so I’ll write down what I think was happening. Four people get on a banana shaped boat and light a basket of fire that is suspended over the water. Under that fire they throw these black ‘cormorant’ birds. Once there, I assume the fire attracts fish; much like a spotlight, and the heat forces the birds under the water, where they might as well grab a snack.

The lake we were on was by no means deep; it was clear and beautiful. Some people were having enkais on their boats! I was deeply jealous; I love Japanese drinking parties. They posed for my pictures too. Anyways, one guy on the boat was making tribal noises maybe, another person moved it up and down the river so people in all the boats could see. The birds were harnessed by wires or something, so when they came up with a fish, the girl would pull them in. Much like how a chicken has a gullet in its throat, the bird’s neck would bulge with its bounty. The girl would squeeze the bulge up and out of the bird’s mouth, and you could see the fish slide out and into the boat.

I of course felt bad for the birds, being manhandled by the throats and tossed back in once they were ripped from their supper, returned to the hot flames. The birds were always trying to get away, and splashing water on themselves to keep warm, but boy was this ever a cool spectacle. We watched them catch fish for over ½ an hour I think. I love being on a boat, and it was such a nice night.

We got back to Kyoto station and had to really look to find a restaurant that was open past the ripe, late late time of… 9:30. We did find a place that was really good though. I had udon noodles, sushi and tempura. Noriko apologized I couldn’t stay at her place as the spare room was busy or something, but she found a nice hotel for me that was reasonably priced. I of course was exhausted after the busy, hot day with little sleep so I didn’t stay up long to enjoy the awesome night view over the main station. I absolutely love nighttime in big cities, especially during good weather.

We met up again bright and early at 9 and after breakfast went to Kyoto tower while the weather was good for a clear view of the city. I had an entrance coupon anyways from my hotel stay. We got a good view up there even if it was only 100 meters high. There aren’t too many skyscrapers in Kyoto, and you could see temples and shrines everywhere. In a nice twist, the binoculars were free to use, so I frequented them often to see close-ups of things like the Kiyomizu temple we visited the other day, or some older Japanese people fishing off a bridge.

There were stickers up around the windows saying what buildings were where, and I noticed a “steam engine museum” not far away. We made a mental note to visit it later. It didn’t take long for you to tell it was getting hot outside, as the view was being diminished by the wavy heat all around us. It was good we got up there when we did.

Before the full blown hot noon though, we got out to see Nijo Castle in Kyoto where the shogun would run the country. It was quite different from the ones I’ve seen in Osaka and Kyoto; this one seemed more geared towards living as opposed to war. At the same time though, I think it was better defended than the others, having 2 moats and high walls. Here we met up with the kids from yesterday too, as they called out my name and waved happily.

We took a tour inside, which was a series of building attached to each other in a half-moon shape. One building was for guests, one for living and so on. In the living quarters though, there were only women geishas, conveniently translated to titles like “head woman in attendance”, “second woman in attendance” and so on. I had a sneaky suspicion that “woman in attendance” kanji wasn’t quite translated correctly. Sure enough when I asked Noriko she wouldn’t answer me one way or another and just giggled.

I found it funny though that even in his private chamber he sat on his knees in that painful seiza position. The only comfort he had was a wooden block thing to rest one of his arms on. Over all, it was quite a beautiful place, with a real feel for how things might have been back then; different from the Osaka castle/museum or the Matsumoto one which is mostly a skeleton wood structure on the inside. There were mannequins, paintings, and cool stuff like secret doors for the bodyguards to hide behind.

For some reason, we couldn’t go in the castle behind the second moat. We weren’t sure why but oh well. After the castle we went and saw the steam engine museum that was pretty interesting. They had many of the old trains up on display that you could walk around in and an old switching train station that they used to pull out train engines as they wanted. I’ve only really seen that stuff in cartoons before, and they played the “I’ve been working on the railroad” song in Japanese. I regretfully forgot the lyrics…

Later they would let you ride the steam engine. I was quite excited, but that fizzled pretty quickly. They took you down 100 to 200 meters of track in a very enclosed area. At least I got to hear its whistle and can say I’ve ridden a steam-powered vehicle now. I’ll need to read up on how the inner workings of the train operate as it seemed pretty complicated, and the Japanese explanations weren’t helping me figure out how the pistons were moving, where the steam was going and so on. Noriko mostly laughed at me as I tried to work it out with the various model displays and so on; I blame the engineer’s curiosity.

She’s a quiet girl, but we had lots of fun. It’s a good thing I have so many stories and can just talk about nothing if I need to. Like the one time I pretended I was dead from the heat, so she quickly fanned me for a bit. I then said she gave me life; therefore she must be my mom like the students said. She didn’t like that one but it’s fun to play around. Richard bugged me the one time when I was in the middle of a negative story; but I don’t think I pay more attention to the negative or the positive, I just note if they’re interesting or not.

The highway looked like one big metal cylinder from a distance; to keep in the noise or something. I think you would have such awesome views of Japan if it weren’t for the huge walls everywhere. Even getting up to the stop there was a large metal slide door to dampen the noise maybe. On the bus home I tried watching some Japanese movies they were playing but I didn’t make much sense out of them. It was still interesting though.

Overall, it was an amazing trip. I finally got to see more of Kyoto and I sure wouldn’t mind seeing more. There are other cool cities nearby too like Nara, Kobe and Osaka that I need to see too. People were a lot more friendly that Tokyo, like I was saying the other day: you know it must be bad when people make a point of telling you of the one or two times a stranger talked to you or tried to help you with something.

I haven’t written this much in a while and should have gone home “for lunch” a couple hours ago. I’m so hungry now… since there are so many pictures that are so beautiful; I’ll post them on my photo account again for you to see. I know it’s been quite a while since I used it.

"The world stands aside to let anyone pass who knows where he is going." -David Starr Jordan


1 comment:

Erika Teacher said...

Please please please visit the South!