Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Very Busy Week and a Half

Thanks to the recent lack of updates to this thing, you may have already figured out that I have been busy. With Ben here, I barely had time to sit around, let alone type up a blog post befitting of the past ten days' excursions. Well, this morning Ben took off to begin his journey back to America and I am left with an empty apartment and another dose of free time so here goes the update!

First was Tokyo. After Ben came to grip with living on a flipped time schedule, he and I became the modern day Lewis and Clark. We covered more of Japan in a week than most Japanese do in decades. Tokyo was a fun place to introduce Ben to Japan. There is so much there and so many different areas of the city. Tokyo was the "shock and awe" phase of the trip. I wanted to jolt Ben in to Japanese culture and I think it worked. The downside to Tokyo is that it also wears me out. The constant energy and dynamic scenery that Tokyo brings to the table is crazy. I have been there six times now and I still find places to visit and explore.

This time around, we found Roppongi Hills. Basically, Roppongi Hills is where the well-off Tokyoites live and play. There is a good foundation of bars and eateries as well as a ton of boutique shops and clothing stores. The gem of Roppongi Hills is the Mori Building. For a small fee, visitors are allowed into an art museum and an observation deck called, The City View. Basically, it is a 360 look at Tokyo from 55 stories up. Unlike the other observation areas, this one is open at night and gives you a sweet view of the Tokyo skyline as well as the Tokyo Tower and Mt. Fuji. I will be uploading the pictures from the visit to Flickr soon and then you will be able to see what I mean.

After Tokyo, we raced down to Hiroshima on the bullet train and took in the A-Bomb Dome, Peace Park, and museum. Hiroshima is a good place to visit once, but going through the museum twice gets annoying. The first time, you are kind of in awe of the displays and pictures, the second time you start to kind of see more of how the Japanese skew the event a little. Going through the museum, you would think that only women and small children were killed in the blast and I find that somewhat annoying. It feels like they are trying to hard to make you feel bad about the situation. Aside from the museum, the rest of our stay there was great. The Granvia hotel there treated us very well, we got English newspapers every morning and we were also invited to take a sake tasting survey in which two bottles of sake from a local brewery were provided for Ben and I's judgment since we have a rather refined and well-honed taste in booze.

From Hiroshima, I took Ben to Himeji to see the castle and then to Kobe to wander around for a bit. I don't know about Ben but the highlight from that day for me was finding a Panda Express and eating orange chicken for the first time in a couple of years. Yum...sweet...sweet orange chicken....ahh. Oh, I almost forgot, there was one other Hiroshima highlight. So, after the museum, Ben and I wandered about for a bit. As we were walking, we came upon a stadium of some sort and the nearer we got to the stadium, we began to realize that this was the home of the Japanese major league baseball team, the Hiroshima Carp. Then we discovered that they were playing a game that day against the Hanshin Tigers who are basically, the New York Yankees of Japan. I had never seen a Japanese ball game and Ben was up for the event so we bought tickets and shortly thereafter, found ourselves just above the third base line, amongst hundreds of Hanshin Tigers fans.

Japanese baseball games are funny. The stadiums are a smaller capacity than their American counterparts and the level of play is somewhere between a MLB team and a AAA team. They are good players but not quite as good as US major league teams. The one thing that stood out however, were the fans. The fans of Japanese baseball are some of the loudest, most spirited bunch of people you will ever see. Each team had flag wavers, drummers, trumpet players, cheer leaders, you name it. It was like the baseball equivalent to a college football game. The crowd was nuts. During the game, there was constant singing and chanting and shouting of encouragement to the players. During one inning, all of the fans blew up the huge balloon and launched them off simultaneously, creating a rainbow shower of deflated balloons that rained down on everyone. If American baseball were like this, it would make the sport much less boring to watch. Also, there was this crazy old guy in front of us that asked Ben and I if we liked beer and then proceeded to go by each of us a tall cold one. I tried to pay him but he wouldn't have it so I went and bought him a beer as well. We all cheered to the Hanshin Tigers and it was a milestone moment in Japanese/American relations.

Once we had seen the castle and Kobe, Ben and I jumped on a train to come back to Fukuchiyama. Ben was expecting something different from my town. I think he expected my town to not be a ghetto and town is kind of a ghetto. Anywho, after getting a good night's sleep, we jumped on a train the next morning and headed to Osaka. It was here that Ben decided two things: 1) He was getting sick of trains and 2) Thanks to decision #1, he would treat the two of us to a hotel in Osaka so that we could have an earlier and faster ride to Kyoto the next day. This turned out to be quite fun.

Once I knew where we would be, I called Jessica and asked her if she was free for the evening. She didn't have plans so she joined us in Osaka and we went to a couple of bars and then to a club called, Pure. I had heard of this club and I knew that it was trance night so I was kind of excited to see the place. If you visit Osaka, do NOT go to Pure. It sucks. The DJs were horrible and cannot mix songs at all. You knew a new song was coming if the DJ started to scratch a lot or if they stopped the beat. I have been to my fair share of dance clubs and I have to say, Pure has the worst DJs I have ever heard. Aside from DJs, the club is just a bunch of white guys trying to pick up the ten women that were somehow duped into coming to the place. In summarization, if you haven't figured it out already, Pure sucked but the rest of the Osaka section of the trip was good.

Lastly, we went to Kyoto. Kyoto is the city I enjoy showing off the most and I was looking forward to sharing it with Ben. Jessica decided to come with us too and we also met up with Terri and our first destination was an obscure temple on the Northern outskirts of the city. I knew it was going to be a little bit of a trip but I didn't think the place would take as long as it did to get to. By the end of going through a couple of temples, it was late enough and we were all tired enough to just call it a day and go out to eat. I felt kind of bad that I didn't get to show Ben all I had planned to in Kyoto but I was also really drained and just kind of sick of being on the move all the time. That night we came back to Fukuchiyama and crashed hard.

After all the traveling, we finally had a day of rest, which was great because we were both out of clean clothes and needed to do laundry. For lunch we went to a sushi place and Ben was amazed at the efficiency of the place. The sushi was also tasty.

Last night was Ben's last night here and so he and I and Maya and her friend, Ayako, went out to dinner and then to karaoke. That was a blast and for Ben it was a highlight because he had never been to a real karaoke place and had a lot of fun. I am glad his trip ended on a high note and we were able to check one more thing off on his list of Japan experiences. It was cool to have him here and to be able to roam about all of Japan one last time for myself. This trip kind of marked the beginning of the end of my Japan experience and it is a good way to start the process of going back to the US. That is still a few months away, but I feel it is much closer now.

Anywho, I hope you had fun, Ben and I was glad we were able to hang out and do all that we did. As for the rest of you, click on my Flickr link and you will see some snapshots from the trip's various stops.


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