Wednesday, October 8, 2008

peace is a 2 finger symbol

The peace sign. It is everywhere in Japan. From Tokyo all the way to Suzu. We got the peace sign everywhere, so much that we started giving it in every picture too. It just seemed like the right thing to do. When in Japan...

Monday, September 22, 2008

taiko drums in a temple

We arrived in Kanazawa at about 6:30am. Thats not to say that we awoke at 6:30am though. We were woken by a loud Japanese voice over the loudspeaker directly above our heads, followed by a little song at about 5:30am. The sound jolted me out of bed and I began to rush around like a madwoman putting all of my stuff back into wherever it had fallen out of the night before. I threw my bedroom (could you even call it a bedroom?) door open and started to rush out when I looked up and realized that it was still really, really dark outside. You can imagine my surprise and anyone that knows me can imagine my aggravation at realizing that I was woken up a full hour before we had arrived. I was exhausted, but every time I laid my head on the pillow I was woken up again by that damn Japanese voice!
Finally we arrived at the Kanazawa train station. To say it was beautiful is a bit of an understatement -it was gorgeous. It was really open and light and airy. You felt like you were inside and outside at the same time. We sat at the train station for about a half hour or so until we grabbed some taxis and headed to the International Exchange Salon where Nagae-san and Mr. Tomioko were waiting for us. They greeted us warmly and grabbed our stuff and welcomed us into this beautiful house. They both wore huge smiles on their faces and we all kept greeting each other with 'ohayo gozaimus' and 'domo arigato' and smiles since that was all that we really knew how to say. They sat us at this beautiful table full of delicious treats and coffee and tea. They had only just met us and were showing us such kindness and warmth - welcoming us and providing us breakfast and a place to stay until we could head to our hotel.
Tsuyoshi had arranged for us to go there with our luggage and originally assumed that we would head out and explore Kanazawa until we could check in, but it was raining pretty hard outside and everyone was tired. So instead we spent the morning at the Salon, photographing and relaxing. It was definitely one of the nicest moments of Kanazawa. It was a much needed breath of quiet and rest. The Salon had a beautiful and elaborate Japanese garden and mixed with the rain, the garden became almost magical. It was intoxicating and refreshing and we were all affected.
We photographed for hours, hung out, drank tea, read, wrote and rested. It was exactly what we needed after our long trip. Tsuyoshi managed to always give us exactly what we were needing or what we were missing on this trip, even when it wasn't intentional, and this morning was another one of those times. We met an artist whose paintings were being shown in the Salon gallery. She gave Jeri 6 copies of a set of postcards of her paintings - one for each of us. She hadn't even seen all of us, let alone met us, but here she was giving us these beautiful cards. I am amazed at the kindness of the people here.
A little after 1pm we headed to the hotel to check in. After we got everything settled - Jeri, Cindy & I headed out to explore Kanazawa. We happened upon a temple, found me some deodorant, found an owl shop (and the owl man!), and headed to the gold leaf shop.
At the gold leaf shop we were led to the back where the people were actually making the gold leaf. We sat through a rough and short demostration and actually ate gold! The man explaining the gold leaf process only spoke Japanese. It was then that Cindy and I realized that Jeri was not only very good with directions, but also great at interpreting bits of Japanese language paired with wild hand gestures. After the demonstration, we were led out and back to the gold leaf shop where we were served tea with bits of gold leaf in it. Can you stand it? (Cindy!!)
The 3 of us explored the area for the rest of the afternoon. We wandered up an alleyway or street, I couldn't tell, and happened upon a handful of temples. While walking we heard the sound of taiko drums. We walked towards the sound and entered the temple doors.
I cannot explain this experience in a way that would do it justice. It was absolutely fantastic. The sound of the drums paired with the excitement of being in a new and spiritual place was something that I won't ever be able to put into words. It felt like something secret, something private - it was a strange mixture of fear and excitement. I can only say that if there were one moment that I could return to in Kanazawa, it would be that moment.
It started to rain and we had to be back, so we left the temple and made our way back to the hotel to meet for dinner. Dinner was pretty uneventful since we were all exhausted from the long day and not so long night of sleep. We headed back to the hotel and headed to bed since we knew we had to be up and on time for our meeting with Mr. Tomioko.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"no dead bodies"

Woke up early at the Asakusa View Hotel. The view was amazing, and there was a view from all angles in the hotel. We grabbed breakfast and headed to the Tsujiki Fish Market. There were people and shops everywhere. People were selling everything from tea to knives, shark skin graters to t-shirts, fresh fish to fresh ginger. We walked around all morning - shooting & exploring. We bought some tea, watched a man filet a fish, and met a guy named Andrew. It was a busy morning, but it was probably one of the most visually interesting mornings of the whole trip. And if it hadn't sunk in yet that we were in Japan, it definitely sunk in that morning.

We grabbed lunch at a conveyor belt sushi place. It was pretty awesome picking out whatever you wanted from in front of you. I was a bit hesitant at first so Tsuyoshi started picking up dishes and then would give me a piece to try. After a little bit of that, I just dove right in. It was all so good.

After lunch, we headed back to Asakusa and spent the day shopping and hanging around the temple. Jeri bought some rose flavored ice cream and we met a Japanese woman who spoke a little bit of English. We talked with her, her daughter and her two grandchildren for a little while. While saying our goodbyes, she pulled out 3 origami figures that she had made and gave them to Cindy for the three of us (Jeri, Cindy & I). It was our first experience with the extreme generosity of the Japanese people. And every day thereafter we would experience someone or something like this that would remind us what a special place we were in.

We hung around outside the temple and we ended up buying temple books - basically you get your book stamped at every temple that you go to until your book is filled. There was one older man there who had a huge temple book. It was completely filled with stamps and it was so big that he carried it around with him in a small rolling suitcase! He attempted to explain his experience with the book to Jeri, thinking that she could speak Japanese, but obviously the weight of the conversation was lost on us.

That night we were going to Kanazawa on a sleeper train. The train left at 11pm and arrived at Kanazawa at 6:30am. We were leaving from Ueno - another area of Tokyo - so we headed there to grab dinner & head to our next destination. At the Ueno station the group convinced me to repack and try to downsize for the long leg of the trip. Somehow I managed to get the things I needed into my smaller suitcase, and this concluded repack #1.

That night we headed to the Ueno station to eat dinner and that is where I first fell in love with Ramen. Ramen in Japan is nothing like the Ramen that I knew. It is absolutely amazing and delicious. We ordered this Ramen out of a vending machine that would shoot receipts out at us and that we would then hand to the waitress. At dinner we talked about our day and told Tsuyoshi of our temple books. To our surprise, he had no idea what we were talking about! We explained the concept to him assuming that this was a popular thing, but he still had no idea. Eventually (a few days later) we found out that the temple books were legit, but for a while it was a funny topic of conversation since everyone thought that we had been had!

After dinner we wandered around a bit and ended up at this park area that had a great view of Ueno. We all sat there and took in the view for a good half hour and the break was definitely needed since it was the first time since we got there where all we had to do was wait.

We headed back to the Ueno station to regrab our luggage and head off to Kanazawa. It was at this point that we realized that I couldn't leave my extra luggage for more than 3 days - which was not enough time. So I then attempted repack #2. Poor Scott only had one bag ( but he ended up helping the rest of us who had packed way too much.

After getting on the train I spent the next hour attempting repack #3 at Cindy's suggestion. The two of us spent the next hour or two giggling about just exactly what was in my suitcase (10 packs of puffs plus, 6 hand sanitizers, 8 packages of crackers, a bag of pretzels, and a partridge in a pear tree) and it ended up being another funny topic of conversation for the rest of the trip.

Cindy went for a 6 minute shower and came back exasperated. Apparently, she missed the shower area and after wandering for "what seemed like forever" she knocked on the conductor's door - at which point a confused conductor led a desperate Cindy to the shower. On the way back, even more confused about where she was she headed back to what she thought was her room. The door was shut and Cindy, thinking that it had accidentally locked behind her, starting banging on my door trying to get me to open up and let her in. Well, after a minute or so that little door opened and when she saw that the luggage inside wasn't mine, she made a run for it! I still giggle just thinking about it! Cindy is such a character and she has made this trip so wonderful and fun.

We headed to bed at around 1am and woke up to the sound of the conductor's voice and some awful wannabe lullaby...

domo arigato

I arrived in Japan late Monday afternoon (Japan time) after a long & grueling 17 hours. Tsuyoshi and the group met us (Cindy & I) at the airport and we set off for Asakusa. Exhausted, we unpacked our suitcases (well, sort of..), showered & headed out w/ Tsuyoshi's sister, Yukiko & friend.

First we walked around Asakusa a bit. Jeri found a five person cardboard cutout & we had fun snapping photos of us in it! We walked around the temple and then up & down the market, we walked and talked and slowly got to know each other.

After a while, we headed to eat. Tsuyoshi & his sister ordered for us all and the plates just kept on coming! The food was soooo good! This was one of the first real Japanese meals that I had ever had and I quickly set aside any and all doubts that I previously had had. I tried everything, and for the most part enjoyed all of it. We drank and laughed and we all genuinely had a good time.

Yukiko & friend were great hosts. They poured us sake and helped us pronounce Japanese words. Tsuyoshi served as a great interpreter between the two languages and helped us all communicate with each other. We mastered a great thank you (domo arigato gozaimus) and attempted to ask for some water.

I also learned how to say "where is the bathroom?", although i'm sure it sounded more like "where bathroom?". And once I found said bathroom, I paired concentration with balance at my first experience with a squat toilet. I had been drinking a little bit & had had maybe 3 hours of sleep in the last 24 hours so I wasn't taking any chances. I stripped from the waist down and am happy to say that I escaped unscathed.

The rest of the night was great. We all got to learn a little about each other while enjoying good food & a great atmosphere. The night ended with a trip to 7-11 and a gift of hangover juice for the morning. And thank God for that because we all fell asleep and woke up fairly unharmed the next morning at 7am.