Saturday, April 28, 2007

A Prelude ToThe Whirlwind Tour Of Japan

The time has come, Golden Week has arrived, and Jim will be here in about 35 hours.

As I type this, I am procrastinating packing for my journey. I have to go to a meeting for most of the day tomorrow but afterwards, I am on a train to Osaka to mess around for a few hours before getting on my bus, The Mega Dream, bound for Tokyo. The Mega Dream is a double decker wonder of wheeled transportation. The buses here are pretty big and when you combine that with small roadways of Japan, something has to give. What this means is that buses have their own roads and highways across Japan. These routes have several stops along the way toward the bus's final destination and from what I gather, the whole thing is pretty lavish for riding on a bus. The best part is a bus is 1/3 the price of a shinkansen ticket. I am looking forward to the bus ride.

Once I am in Tokyo, I have the morning and most if the afternoon to myself. Jim touches down in Narita airport around 4:30pm and I will meet him there, up until that time, I am left to my own devices. Once Jim touches down, the fun really begins.

For the first two days Jim is here, we will be in Tokyo. After that, we take a shinkansen to Hiroshima to spend a day and a night looking around at all that city has to offer. After that, we head back to my neck of the woods and Jim gets a look at Himeji castle, and then my town. The following days will be spent making trips into Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, and most likely, Nara. If we are able, we are also going to stay in a capsule hotel in Osaka for a night, just to see what they are like.

Once the first week is out of the way, things will calm down a bit. I have to work again starting next Tuesday but Jim will be left to roam free and let nature take its course. I am very intrigued to see what Jim ends up thinking of everything. It was fun to have my family here and see what they thought was interesting about the whole trip, now I want Jim's take on everything. I also think I will make a better guide for Jim than I did my family. They came after I had only been here for six months, with Jim I will have had a year and a half to figure out what I want him to see and improve on my Japanese. By the time Ben comes in September, I will pretty much be a professional guide of Japan.

The other cool part about having Jim here is it will be just like we were roommates again. We can watch goofy movies, play games, and just hang out; I am looking forward to it.

Anywho, next time I post, it will probably be from Tokyo. I will definitely be off the grid tomorrow so don't expect to get emails or see me online for the next couple of days. Well, now I really do need to pack so I better get to it, I am just so stoked for Jim to come and to get a vacation.

Oh oh, one more thing before I forget. One of my pics on Flickr got me invited to join an invite only photo group on that site. The funny part is that wasn't the pic I expected many people to like. Either way, that made my night last night when I found out I got noticed by someone.

Ok, now it really is time to pack. See ya'll later!!

Thursday, April 26, 2007


In less than two months now, I will be going back to the United States for a week. I have know I was going back since December but time has gone by quite rapidly and I find myself less than a month and a half away from my plane touching down in Boise. There is part of me that is excited to go back, lots of people to see and lots of food to eat. The biggest chunk of me is very nervous, however.

Having lived in Japan for a year and a half now, I have come to barely tolerate most white people. Whitey is loud, obnoxious, and most often, totally disrespectful of the country they find themselves in. And as I have said earlier, most of the white people that come here are an embarrassment to normal Caucasians. What is in the world am I going to do when I am in a place that is 99.5% white? On the flipside of that, what am I going to do when I find myself able to read and understand everything I see and hear around me? One way or the other, I think it will be a sensory overload of sorts.

Then there is my brother's wedding. While I am happy for him and his fiance, I can't help but to be the tiniest bit nervous about the whole thing. I guess I am a little jaded and I know not all relationships turn out the way mine have, but I would hate to have him and his girlfriend have to go through what Mushi and I did and I know that what I went through was pretty tame in comparison to other divorces. Good or bad divorce, they are horribly fun either way.

Then there is the whole layout of American life that is totally different to what I have been living in for the past while. Big houses, malls, cars everywhere, huge freakin' trucks with idiots in cowboy hats, gunracks, swimming pools and hottubs, Walmart, dry air, very hot days, beds, white people, couches, TV commercials that aren't cute and funny, everything. The reason I mention couches in that list is because I have lounged on a couch only three or four time since I have come here. I miss couches and will definitely need one when I return permanently. The shear level of relaxation reached when sprawled all over a comfy couch is amazing when compared to the level of relaxation reached when sprawled across a train seat. Swimming pools and hottubs are mentioned because thanks to certain body art, I am not allowed into most public pools and hot springs here. There are lots of things Americans take for granted that other countries simply don't have or don't have a lot of. I am going to need to re-adjust. Oh, one other biggy, driving. I haven't driven a car for the last year and a half, that will be odd.

So anywho, there are lots of things associated with coming back to the US that I have been thinking about. While it will be great to see everyone, and understand what they are saying, and talk at a normal pace while in conversation, I think it will feel slightly odd. I am also curious as to how long it will take me to get homesick once I am there, after all, my home is in the mountains of South-Central Japan now. All in all, I am intrigued as to how the whole trip goes. I expect it will be fun; it will just be very different.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Multi-Faceted Rant in D Minor

First, I had a kid intentionally fart in my face during class tonight. I have come close to losing it on kids before but it was all I could do to keep from tripping him, straddling him, and re-enacting a Fight Club moment on his face. I am not a teacher, I am someone that gets paid to let kids bad mouth and disrespect him. The thing that gets me is that this kid was eleven. He was already missing his two front teeth so I couldn't even take credit for that. Next month, poor Jumpei is in for a treat when he walks into my class, looks into my face, and realizes that he is now in the middle of me doing my Old Testament impersonation of God. No, Jumpei does not get the happy, tree hugging, New Testament "Buddy Christ", he gets the scornful, vengeful, wrath-filled God.

Second, why is it always so freakin' cloudy here lately? I am not a sunshine fan but man, sometimes, if only for a short while, I wish the sun would shine and I could see blue sky sprinkled with a handful of happy, fluffy muffin clouds. I think this may help my mood somewhat and it makes for good photography weather to boot. Oh, I would also be pleased if the weather was like this on a day I am not working, like tomorrow.

Lastly, how is it a man can have two Ferraris when all I have is a bike? Maya's dad bought another Italian gem last week, this one is an F360. I am cool with people having super-nice, exotic sports cars but usually, those people are total strangers to me and I don't interact with their daughters on a regular basis. This guy is only one degree of separation away from me. Oh, to have enough money for an Aston Martin Vanquish...and still be a historian/teacher. While I am at it, I want to be the benevolent dictator of the world. I could make the world a better place and make those who oppose me disappear, its a win-win situation but for some reason, I think I am the only one that agrees with me.

Jim is here in less than a week, which also means that I will be in Tokyo in less than a week. I just have to hang in there for five more days. I can do it. I can do it. I can do it. I can do it.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Fountain

I came home from work tonight and was bored and didn't feel like playing video games so I pushed play on a movie called, The Fountain. What a strange, original, and eye-pleasing film.

Without giving away the story, let me just say that if you took Carl Sagan and combined his interest in astronomy and mild-altering drugs with a dab cancer research, a little bit of history, and a pinch of romance, you essentially have this movie.

The funny part is that I haven't decided whether or not I liked it. I have liked Darren Aronofsky's other films, such as "Pi" and "Requiem For A Dream" and I knew I liked both of them right off the bat. I think "The Fountain" will probably grow on me but it has left me very disconbobulated for the moment. I think part of it is how the film has so many layers and things going on with it, that it may just take some time to digest. Having now seen it though, I can safely say that if anyone were to make a film of the book, "House of Leaves", it should be him.

If you have seen this movie, let me know what you thought about it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

When Good Bile Goes Bad

Over the past couple of days, I have had some wicked heartburn. It always starts up at 6:30am and so I get up and get some water and take some anti-acid stuff and then drift in and out of sleep for the next three or four hours. It also seems like whatever I eat will make it flare up too. Annoying. Only this morning wasn't as bad as yesterday so maybe it decided to calm down.

In other news and on the topic of bad bile, I have been hearing stuff about the Virginia Tech shootings. Maybe its me being here and not in the US but for some reason, I have felt largely apathetic to the whole situation. What I do find depressing is that this nutjob goes on a rampage because he can't get a girlfriend by the sounds of it. Of all of the pathetic reasons to go crazy, that is up there with eating Twinkies. If your going to kill people (which you shouldn't anyways), at least have a good reason; not getting laid is not a good reason. The guy was definitely crazy though because all of the videos he sent to NBC were in Quicktime format.

Not much else to report at the moment. I am basically on mental autopilot for the next week and a half just so I can get through work and get to Jim visiting and my vacation.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Unwanted Nerd Battle

Starting about this time yesterday, I have been slightly annoyed.

One of my co-workers is kind of strange. She is fun to hang out with but that almost never happens because she is a flake. She will message me or call me and talk about how bored she is and how we should go out sometime. Then we plan on taking a field trip and she backs out at the last minute. That is what happened today. She-Who-Will-Remain-Nameless-Because-I-Don't-Know-Who-Reads-This-Anymore and I decided that we would go to Osaka today. I really didn't want to go but I wanted to hang out with her and she sounded lonelier than usual. So it was all set up that today, I was going to show her around Osaka. Last night, she calls me and tells me that since she was staying up late, partying with other co-workers, that she might want to sleep in today. I was half expecting this and wasn't horribly shaken up because I was ambivalent to going out today anyway. Then she tells me that another coworker still wanted me to show him around Osaka and still wanted to go, I will call this person, AMGC(Annoying Male Geek Coworker) from now on.

AMGC started to get on my nerves before we even left because he didn't want to go too early today and didn't know for sure if it was financially wise to go with me today. I told him he needed to make up his mind ASAP because I wasn't blowing my money or time to go to Osaka if he wasn't going too and that if he backed out on me after I had already gotten on the train, he would feel a wrath that I only reserve for special occasions and barbeques. We eventually figured out a time to meet and he promised he would not back out so I was content to go to Osaka to show him around despite the fact that I would have enjoyed going with the female coworker more.

The train ride to Osaka was pleasant and I came upon a couple of interesting thoughts and observations on the way there. Then he called to tell me he would be a tad late. This was also okay because my train was running twenty minutes behind and I wouldn't get there too far ahead of him.

Brief description of AMGC: White, pale, tall, 18 or 19 years old, male. He is from some nowhere part of Canada and spends most waking hours playing video games. One reason he came to Japan was to buy a Playstation 3, also one good reason he is now strapped for cash. He enjoys computer games, sadly some of the same ones I do, and is ultra-competitive in nature. Description complete.

Upon his arrival, AMGC immediately started tweaking my otherwise not bad mood. Along with his backpack, he had brought his rollerblades and they ornamentally dangling from his shoulder.

"Why did you bring those?"

"So I can get around faster, they let me wear them on the trains and even in stores."

"You wear them in stores?"

"Yeah, in Himeji I do all the time."

(Blink. Blink.)"....Yeah...Well, today you should put them in a locker. Where we are going isn't the most rollerblade friendly area in the world. Its going to be pretty crowded."

"Oh no, its fine, I can skate in the street."

"You could...but there are cars in the street...and the rollerblades are going to be in a locker."

"So you think I should get a locker for the rollerblades?"

"Yup. Yup, I do."

About this time, he realized that my suggestion was actually a veiled order and that by the tone of my voice, it was the final say on the matter. He wisely got a locker. Fun note on the locker he got: It was keyless and required you to use your cell phone to call a number to open the locker. When retrieving things from the locker, you call it again and it verifies that the number you used to begin with is the same you are calling from when retrieving and it opens by itself. Badass. The lockers were funny because he had no clue how to use them and I had to do it for him.

After stowing the skates, we embark for Den Den Town and all of the geeky joy that it holds.

On the way to Den Den, I explain to him the stuff we will likely encounter and this sends him on a tangent about how he only pirated games and software when he was younger and didn't have a job or money. Now, he buys everything and wants to support the games' creators. It wasn't so much his opinion that bothered me but the tone of voice he was using in expressing his opinion and some of his phrasing and word choices; he was lording his legitimate gaming lifestyle over the ways of the Dark ways. Tack on another point to the "How AMGC Peeved Mogwai Today" board.

After looking through some stores and finding him the game he wanted to buy for a very cheap(half)price, I asked him if he was hungry and told him if he was, I could definitely eat something. He then did something that drives me nuts. I do not like suggesting the idea of getting food to someone and then having them go off about how they aren't truly hungry but could probably eat or they are only a tad hungry but know they will be needing food shortly so they may as well eat. Either you want to get lunch or you don't, friggin' decide. So we ate lunch and I had to help him with that too. I know that I encourage people to use me as a tour guide but a lot of the people I play guide for have absolutely no common sense. What also kills me, is that this kid has been here for over a month. Another annoyance point added to the board.

Toward the end of the day is when he really ticked me off. AMGC sees a guitar shop and like 85% of all white people here, he "loves to play the guitar". He then tells me how the shops around his town won't let him play their guitars anymore because they know he isn't going to buy one. He then tells me that he is going over to the guitar shop to see if they have any he can play. I tell him that I will be in the store across the street and to come find me when he is done. A look of hurt spreads across AMGC's face, "You mean you don't want to come listen to me?"

"No, not really. I am going to go take a look in this store."


"Ok, see ya in a few minutes," and I took off. No, I don't want to hear you play someone else's guitar. I am not your boyfriend and I am not your record producer, I do not have to listen to or pretend I like whatever it is your going to be trying to play. Another note about white people in Japan, most of them say they are musicians for some reason that still befuddles me and precious few of them have any talent whatsoever. Every foreigner you meet in Japan stands a good chance of being in some band and that band will suck. If they ask you to come to some hole of a bar and listen to them, politely refuse, your ears will thank you later.

Anywho, I go to my store to look and AMGC goes off to his guitar shop. I go through four floors of gadgetry while he goes through four bars of Stairway To Heaven. You get my drift, time passes. I come out of my shop about fifteen minutes later and I do not see the tall, lanky sillouette of my gooberish cohort. He is still strumming away somewhere. So I go over to the guitar shop to see if he is finished and I can't find him. I go through both floors of the place and he is nowhere to be seen. Where the heck did he go? Next, I leave him a text on his phone, no reply. I then call him, no reply. I let a few minutes pass and try both channels of communication again, nothing. Almost half an hour goes by and after numerous messages and phone calls I get zilch. I, am pissed.

Finally, he magically resurfaces at the counter of the guitar shop talking to a couple of guys and flailing his hands about because he can't speak Japanese and thinks they understand whitey sign language. I am finally able to get his attention and he comes out of the store.

"Where have you been, I was trying to call you?"

"I was playing guitar."

"Where, I was all through that place and didn't see you."

"Oh, I was in a soundproof room in the back of the shop."

"Ahh, well I have been trying to call you, I didn't think when you said you were going to try out the guitars that meant you were going to play them for half an hour. I have been out here for twenty minutes."

"Oh well, sorry, even if you did try calling it wouldn't have mattered, my phone is on silent mode in my backpack."

"Thats a good place for it. Well, I am glad you came out when you did, I was getting ready to leave because I thought you might have already. I didn't think you would be playing this long."

"Well, my average guitar session is an hour so this was pretty short."

"You know, I can see why they kick you out of stores now when you try to play their guitars."

I don't think he expected me to say I had thought of leaving or that I could see why other stores didn't want him playing their merchandise. He looked kind of hurt but I didn't horribly care, I was ticked off. What got me even more was when he got his phone out of his bag and said, "Oh, you did try to call and message me." No shit, thats what I told you five minutes ago, did you not believe me and needed visual proof that I am not a lying idiot?! Grr. As I said, this kid got on my nerves today.

That was pretty much the end of our day, toward the end I was ready to throttle him and I think he started to suspect it. AMGC is a nice enough kid but I think that is just it, he is a kid. He tries to tell me how good he is at the games that he knows I play just so he can see if I take the bait and try to one up him. He is constantly trying to get me to compete with him and I think it drives him nutty that I never bite. I am just too old to care what an 18 year old can do on some Xbox game and I have lost some of my nerdiness that used to get me through lengthy conversations about random video games. I just don't care enough about them anymore. I still like them, I just don't care about 99% of them enough to listen to someone gab about how many kills they can get on Halo when using a keyboard and mouse compared to a gamepad.

So that was pretty much my day. I took a couple of pictures and warded off wave after wave of youth driven oneupsmanship. Odds are, AMGC and I won't get many more bonding moments like the ones we shared today; I will strive to ensure it.

Interesting Sidenote: I mentioned that my train was twenty minutes late today and I just learned that my suspicions as to why this was were correct. The whole train stoppage was odd because we stopped dead on the tracks, not at a station like the trains normally do; my train stopped in between stations on a track elevated four storeys off the ground. The conductor then came on and said there was going to be a slight delay, after which, the train rocked a tad for a couple of seconds and then went still again. Trains usually rock when they are moving, not standing still. Also, being near a window on a train that is swaying four storeys above the ground is kind of unnerving. If you haven't guessed, there was an earthquake. Evidently, a 5.1 magnitude hit the area around Nara and the trains had enough of a warning to shut down before the earthquake got to where I was at. Odds are, nothing would have happened had the train been moving, but as a precaution, if the train company has enough warning they will shut down the lines if they think an earthquake is coming that could derail a train or cause damage to the tracks. I wasn't so much bothered by the earthquake but I am impressed by Japan's ability to predict them and take measures to ensure the safety of people in the event of one.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Photography and I

Here's the deal: I really enjoy photography.

I have mentioned that on here before but over the past few months especially, I have taken a more keen interest in the subject. I read photography books and study tutorials, I enjoy looking through random Flickr pages, and I enjoy trying stuff out with my camera that I haven't done before. Taking pictures has definitely become a full-blown hobby for me.

My definition of a hobby is something that I do that is theraputic for me. By that definition, I don't have a ton of hobbies. Three or four come to mind, cooking, travelling, reading and writing, and now photography. Notice that computers aren't on the list, that is for a couple of reasons. First, I don't play video games as much as I used to and, while I still enjoy them, my life doesn't revolve around them. Secondly, I have tinkered with computers so much in the last ten years that there isn't a lot of stuff left about them that intrigues me. I can build them, tweak them, and cause mischief on them and for me that is enough. I like messing around with computer security stuff but quite frankly, we all know where that road leads me and therefore, I purposefully avoid it these days.

Photography though, lets me wrap some of my other hobbies into it and it has become a very convenient pasttime for me. I take pictures when I travel and I write about some of the pictures I take. Although cooking doesn't get involved very much, I suppose I could start taking pics of the food I make if I really wanted to. Nothing wakes me up in the morning like a steamy portrait of roast chicken with red peppers....ohh....those sexy red peppers....ahh. Oh sorry, back to photography.

Anywho, I have slowly come to the point that my Kodak P850 is more of a hinderance to me than a solid picture snapping tool. Its a good camera and it has served me well, but I have outgrown it and I need something more. Enter my Nikon D80 with a Nikor 18-200 VR lens. If you look up the bugger on line you are going to say, holy crap, Mogwai spent that on a camera!? Yup, I did but since I am in Japan and Nikon is in Japan, I didn't get it for the price they are asking in various stores and online. Nonetheless, it was kind of a spendy purchase. But it does what I want it to do and I think it will be able to last me a while. I also don't think I can outgrow this camera like I could my point and shoot. To be honest, I really didn't want to buy it now but I kept thinking of the photos I could be taking if I had a more suitable camera and the fact that I wasn't going to be in Japan forever, prompted me to move up the timetable a bit. I am glad I did.

Here are a few examples of what I can do now:

I have lots more I could show you but Blogger is a tad slow in upload department and the pics I could show you are rather large, even after being converted to JPG. To that end, I have kicked my Flickr account into full gear. If you look in the top, right-hand corner of the blog, you will see a link to it. If you would rather cut and paste it in, this is the address:

All of the photos on that page have been taken by me and most of them have a brief description attached to them. I have a Multiply account that I originally intended to be my photo page but it is geared more toward someone who wants a full-blown blog rather than a photo page. Since I already have a blog, I didn't need another one. Flickr is geared more toward photos and I also like the fact that I can get feedback and advice from people on there. I haven't been active on this blog for a couple of days because I have been getting my Flickr site presentable and uploading quite a few pics to it. If you go there, there is definitely something for you to look at now. I also intend to update it frequently which is something that never really happened with the Multiply account.

I will try to split my time equally between this blog and my Flickr account but at the moment, I am really into photography so this page may get a little neglected. I will try to post on here at more regular intervals now that I have the Flickr page up and running with a good tasting of my photography. Keep in mind, I take TONS of photos but the ones that go on Flickr are ones that I am kind of proud of or want feedback on. If you want to see my more "everyday" stuff let me know and I will see what I can do. At the moment, my Flickr site has a lot of my HDR stuff on it. HDR is kind of my obsession at the moment. Looking at an HDR picture that has been properly done is a lot like looking at a still frame of HDTV, lots of detail and bright colors; the pictures pop. HDR is something I have wanted to do for a while but my old camera couldn't take it. My new one can and I am relived to finally get some of the shots that I have seen in my head but have been unable to capture until now.

So anyways, please take a gander at my Flickr site and tell me what you think of the pictures. I don't usually brag about much but I do think some of the shots I have taken are okay and merit a look. I know I am just starting out but I think over time, I have the capability to take some nice pictures that are more like the images that I see in my head when I look at things.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

This Last Weekend's Adventure: Part 2

Sunday started out in much the same way as Saturday; I got up early and headed into Kyoto. Terri met me at Kyoto station a few minutes after I arrived and we headed off to a place called Fushimi Inari Shrine. By the end of the day, it became known as the evil shrine with no end. Inari is a god of grains and protection. Farmers worship Inari so she brings them a good harvest but people will also come to her and ask her to watch over someone that needs help or protection.

For anyone that watched the movie version of, "Memoirs of a Geisha", this is the shrine that where scene with her walking through all of the bright red gates was filmed. It is kind of out of the way from the rest of Kyoto but it is worth going to see at least once. I may go see it again, but there is no way I am walking the whole thing again. What Terri and I did not know when we went to the shrine was that once you get to it, its a four kilometer hike, most of which is up a rather steep mountain.

Overall, it was an interesting hike and I was glad to do it but my feet were ready to fall off by the end of the walk. I will get to that in a minute. Here are some pictures.

This is the entrance to the shrine, it looks so nice and peaceful but gives no warning that you are about to go on a long uphill excursion:

These are the gates, they are meant to scare away evil spirits when you walk through them. Some people must be very troubled because there are thousands of gates to walk through. There are also several thousand more small gates that hang around the place:

This is a shot I like of some smaller gates. People buy them in memory of relatives and have their names written on them, they are then left at the shrine:

Many temples have what are known as "temple cats". These are simply cats who have come to call the temple or shrine home. Some temples have been inhabited by cats for hundreds of years and most likely, these cats are the newest generation of a family of felines that has lived here long before anyone living today. Either way, they are cute:

After the Fushimi Inari Shrine, Terri and I headed back into Kyoto. My feet were killing me. Having walked on them all of the previous day and then going on our little hike up the evil shrine with no end, they were finished. The problem is in my shoes, since there are not any shoes in Japan that fit me, I have worn the same shoes almost everyday for the past year and a half. Once upon a time, they were Sketchers, now they are just leather husks that conform to my hobbit-like feet. The soles are cracked, there are small holes in each of them, and they have no padding anymore. Basically, they are worn to keep my feet from getting cut while walking. Other than that, they don't do too much for me anymore.

Anywho, after the hike, Terri and I went to Kiyomizudera so she could see the sakura. I just limped around looking for places to sit down. The day was ended by a trip to Wendy's and then a train ride home.

The following day, Terri and I went to Himeji. We did this for two reasons, to see the castle, and to pick up Terri's rental car so she could move her stuff up to Tokyo. The castle was nice and it was cool to see the blossoms coming out. The only complaint was the fact that everything was overcast...again. None of these pics really need much of a description, cherry blossoms and a castle. Enjoy!

So there you have it, my weekend of adventure. If this part seems a little rushed, it is due to the fact that today is Friday for me and if I keep going at this speed, its going to be the weekend again. This weekend, I am going back to Himeji castle to see the sakura in full bloom. In the pics above, the blossoms were only out about halfway. I am also going to go to the temple in which parts of the movie, "The Last Samurai" were filmed. It is shaping up to be yet another busy couple of days. I will keep everyone posted and more pics are definitely on their way.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

This Last Weekend's Adventure: Part 1

As mentioned last post, this weekend was busy; very busy and tiring but quite fun.

On Saturday, I called in sick to work. Have you ever noticed how much sweeter the air is and how much more blue the sky appears when you call in sick? Any good day turns into a great day when you aren't working but should be. Anywho, my illness cleared up within minutes of calling in and I felt strong enough to make the trip to Kyoto. I
gathered my gear and headed out the door and to the train station.

Two hours later, I am strolling through Kyoto station trying to decide what to do first. The cherry blossoms were out, the day was warm, and I was free. I went to Kiyomizudera straight away or at least I thought I that was where I was headed. The problem with sakura (cherry blossoms) is that everyone wants to see them and have a picnic under the pale pink shade they provide. The viewing and enjoying of the sakura is a centuries old tradition known as "hanami". Pretty much everyone in Japan does this and Saturday seemed to be the day that most people decided Kyoto was a good place to flock to. Since what seemed to be a third of Japan had the same idea as I did, the lines for the buses that shuttle people to the many and varied temples throughout the city looked less like bus queues and more like lines for Space Mountain in Disney Land. There were security guards directing traffic for the throngs of people trying to get a bus. I decided then and there that I would be walking most of the day. On foot, I set off for Kiyomizudera.

After walking six or so blocks I decided to see how busy the subways were and found them to be almost abandoned. I took one to a place that I thought would be pretty close to where I wanted to go. My destination was a bit further away from my target than I anticipated and so more walking was in order upon leaving the subway station. This turned out to be a good thing. I found several temples and shrines that I had not seen or did not even know existed and it was a pleasant stroll. The only downside to the day was that it was overcast and the blue sky that looks so nice when filled with sakura was instead, a pale gray.

On the upside, it was about this time that I came across my first geisha of the day:

While walking, I came across the Japanese Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and went inside for a look around. The place was almost empty so it was very quiet and relaxing. To my surprise, the tomb also acted as a shrine to the people who have died of Fugu poisoning. Fugu is what the poisonous puffer fish is called here. People like to eat it as sushi and only a licensed sushi chef can prepare the dangerous fishy, obviously, some chefs need to practice a little more or else this shrine would be unnecessary. It was in this tomb/shrine complex that I found the most pink cherry blossom tree I have ever seen. I was amazing and beautiful and these are some pics of that tree and the location as a whole.

Oh yeah, the shrine had one of the biggest Buddhas I had ever seen. Here is the Fugu shrine:

And this is the amazing pink sakura tree:

I continued my stroll to Kiyomizudera upon leaving the large Buddha and the very pink tree. As I made my way closer to the ancient water temple, it got much busier and I also spotted three more geisha:

Finally, I reached the entrance to Kiyomizudera. Upon ascending the stairs, my eyes fell on four more white faces hovering above four brightly colored kimono; four more geisha fell to my mighty camera.

It was at Kiyomizudera that my day took an unexpected turn, I went from being a tourist to being a tourguide. But before I get into that, here are a few more pics of Kiyomizudera:

Above, is one of my favorite pics taken that day. Its very simple and I like it for some reason. The rest are pretty self-explanatory. I do like the little shrine I found the in nook of an old tree, I am not sure how many people notice it and I was glad that I did.

After snapping pics and tasting the water from the spring that flows through the temple (you have to make a wish while you drink it but you don't get to know what I wished for) I started toward the exit. This is about the time I ran into a group of high school kids from California and their adult keepers. I started talking to them because they were asking all sorts of questions that their teachers didn't know but I did. As the conversation continued I found out they were all with their marching band and that Bakersfield, California is the sister city of Wakayama, Japan. Who knew? Anywho, I talked with them a bit and felt kind of bad for them because they ventured into the city without a tour guide and none of them knew Japanese. Japan is a fun place to visit if you know someone that knows his or her way around. A vacation to Japan without some sort of a guide is kind of a waste. I was glad to answer some of their questions and I was also able to convince a couple of geisha to pose for pictures with the kids. They were are grateful for that. After a few minutes a wished them a good trip and started back to Kyoto station on foot.

I had not gone but a few blocks when I ran into another flock of white people at an intersection. They were all making the befuddled whitey face so I asked them if they needed some help. As it turns out, these people were a splinter cell from the previous group I had just finished talking to. They were looking for Kyoto station and I told them that was where I was headed and if they cared to follow me, I would lead them to their destination. Along the way, I got to know the kids and the two adults escorting them and I turned into a tour guide for the second time that day. I answered most of their questions and showed them a couple of shops and a Starbucks. After that, I took them to the station itself and showed them around there. About this time, hunger started to creep up on all of us so I introduced them to some of the biggest hamburgers in Japan. Overall, I think I spent about five hours with this group of people and we all enjoyed the experience. I enjoyed talking to people that were fluent in English and they enjoyed having a tour guide. They even went so far as to all have their pictures taken with me; it was fun and I was glad to help them. Finally, I showed them the bus that would take them back to their hotel and we parted ways. It was almost ten o'clock and I needed to catch a train back home. This brought the first day of my three day extravaganza to an end. Tune in tomorrow to hear my tale of woe as I take an unexpected hike through thousands of red gates and up a largish mountain, capping the day off with the sorest pair of feet I have ever walked on.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Yup, Still Here

I am alive.

I am very tired.

I am very sore.

The cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

I have been to Kyoto twice in the past three days, Himeji once.

I have taken massive amounts of pictures.

I really need a new camera.

Tomorrow, expect a huge post with tons of pics of geisha, cherry blossoms, and a freakin' huge Buddha. I will also post a couple of pics of my recent experiments in HDR (or near HDR because my camera won't do the real thing) and you can see for yourself why I need a new camera. The pics I am working with are half of what they should be as far as true HDR exposure rates go but they are still pretty sweet.

Anywho, I will leave you with this one teaser pic and the rest will follow when I have had a full night's sleep.