March 18th, 2007


Day Three!

[posted a day late... I didn't have internet in Yokohama.]

Politics in Japan is annoying. And I mean that literally.

When 8AM rolls around, Asakusa starts getting pretty loud. It's election campaign season, you see, and for some reason, Japanese politicians seem to think that annoying the crap out of everyone by driving around in vans with loudspeakers is an effective way to get votes (is it? I guess you'd have to ask a bunch of Japanese people about that, but it just seems... Unlikely, given what my Japanese friends seem to think about it). I've told them that there's no way I'm voting for any of them, but this doesn't seem to dissuade them. Note to self: next time, try not to schedule a trip right before an election. Yeesh.

So, went and saw Sensouji (浅草寺 -- the first two characters are also Asakusa, which I imagine isn't accidental) this morning. With my Japanese friend's guidance, I did all the things you're apparently supposed to do. Burned some incense, made a 5円 offering (apparently, that's an auspicious coin, since the polite word for five yen is the same as, um, some word I can't remember or something. I'm sure somebody reading this knows what I'm talking about, though). Saw the golden turn, but held off seeing the museum or whatever they had there until Dusty gets here. My friend here got a copy of the literature for the boat ride down Sumidagawa, too, so we'll be prepared for that (those are all in the same area in Asakusa).

Getting the hang of Japan. Finding I can understand just enough -- got to Yokohama on my own with no issues at all, and understood just enough of the train announcer that I could have navigated my train transfer even if I couldn't have read the signs (of course, I can read the kanji for 横浜 just fine, so that would have been easy even without an English translation). Checked into my hotel in Yokohama (mostly) in Japanese. Yay, me.

Had a blast last night -- we went to this one restaurant that we found out had an, um, waterfall through the dining area while we were eating. I got fairly drunk, which is nice to do once in a while, and is better here, because you can stumble back home without worrying about driving or anything. I actually (almost accidentally) got back to my hotel by an "alternate" route with minimum fuss -- despite that, I'm pretty sure I was actually still drunk, since I got lost in my hotel itself -- I was ten feet from my hotel room and failed to find it. :-/

So, tomorrow, more exploring Yokohama with my Japanese friend here.

[Secret message to Evan: メロンパン was acquired on the way to Asakusa at the appointed place. メロンパンはかなり美味しいです。]

[see photos on flickr]

Day Four

I woke up at 4AM after only getting four hours of sleep. So, I watched Japanese TV for a while, which gave me my favorite "Engrish" so far: BS News (oh, how can you possibly go wrong with BS News? And no, I wasn't hallucinating, I double-checked. It was on a network or something called BS1, and seemed to consist mainly of clips of news programs from around the world with a Japanese voiceover that was probably translating them). It was pretty weird seeing the Japanese newscaster carefully and solemnly bowing to the camera before they spoke, too.

Vending machines that dispense hot cans of coffee on every corner, every hotel, everwhere? Genius. I'm totally going to be addicted to them by the time I get home. On the other hand, I shouldn't have actually got one this morning, I was already pretty shaky from the jet lag being really short on sleep (exhausted really), and it didn't help.

Another way Japan is different? I tried to buy aspirin at a konbini early that morning. But you can't buy aspirin at a convenience store -- you have to go to a drug store. I imagine it was kind of ironic that I was speaking (albeit not very good) Japanese with the clerk there, and yet I didn't know something as basic as that (actually, I'd kinda known that once, but I'd forgotten). I got a supply later, though, which should come in handy later -- I'd forgotten to pack my aspirin when I left the U.S. (the only thing I forgot).

So, anyway, today I went to Kamakura with my Japanese friend in Yokohama, and we saw the daibutsu (大仏 -- giant Buddha) that's so big you can walk around inside it. Also, there were temples, gardens, koi ponds, a cave with shrines, all manner of nice things nearby at the temple in Kamakura, and the area was very pretty (the little Buddha statues were very sad, though. There were so many, with all the little knitted hats and such). Unfortunately, the weather didn't quite cooperate, it didn't get sunny until we returned to Yokohama. Still, it's pleasant to walk around in the nice, cool weather.

Somewhat unfortunately, that's about all we managed to do today -- my friend (who works for the Convention and Visitors Bureau) had to meet a group of foreigners that afternoon, so we didn't have more time. Which, actually, turned out to be perfectly convenient, because by this point, after four days of refusing to give in to my jet lag and staying completely active on four hours of pretty bad sleep a night, I was completely exhausted and it was best just to return to Asakusa and crash early. I wanted to do more, but I don't think I was really capable of it. As it is, the next couple of days (until Dusty arrives) will be a bit slower -- I don't plan to do anything ambitious today or Monday (just the Nippon2007 staff meeting, I guess), so I can rechange and adjust a bit more.

What still amazes me is that even when I've been by myself, I've completely failed to get lost. Not once have I managed to get lost. Not even drunk. I found my hotel in Yokohama while (fairly) drunk without any mis-steps, I made it a kilometer or so from Asakusa station to my hotel here by myself without any problems at all, I've even gotten on all the right trains and everything travelling alone to Yokohama and back without having to ask for help. When we'd split up when my Yokohama friend had to go to work and I had to go pick up my backpack at my hotel, she'd told me what train I had to transfer onto and such to get back to Asakusa from the hotel, but by the time I got back to Yokohama station, I'd completely forgotten. But I still managed to puzzle out the kanji and such (there wasn't quite enough English that told you what you needed to know if you didn't know the name of the train already, and the local maps didn't really tell you) and got on the right train back. Every time it's felt like a miracle, but every time it's gone smoothly. Mind you, having guides the first couple of days was really nice, but I only needed it for a day or two -- I'm starting to feel pretty comfortable here. I even checked back into the hotel here entirely in Japanese, something I didn't think I could do just two days ago (at the time, I'd just been completely confused). Also, the key to buying stuff at the store? Don't bother trying to understand the clerk, just ignore everything they say, tell them what you want, and hand them money. :)

Also, backpacking is only way to travel. Leaving my suitcase in Tokyo and wandering out of the city with the backback has turned out to be a really good idea so far.

So... Tomorrow, the Nippoon2007 staff meeting, not sure what else. Monday night, Dusty arrives!

[see photos on flickr]