Thursday, 31 December 2009

day #3 in Japan

The plan for today was to get up early and go to 神戸市 (Kobe). However a two hour snooze on an 8.30 alarm caused us to postpone Kobe for another day, as we wouldn't have arrived early enough to make the journey worthwhile (which was a shame, because Kobe is where Jay is).

Instead we woke up at 10.30, got ready slowly, and had 弁当 (bento (essentially a posh packed lunch)) for breakfast. It was Aaron's and the intention was to share it, but after I touched it (to open it) he opted out, for fear of becoming infected with my cold.

More for me mwahahahahahaha.

A leisurely walk to 7/11 entailed, where we bought lunch to eat on the same bench we ate on yesterday. I'm going to punctuate this post heavily with pictures, the first two being of the house we stayed in whilst in Kyoto, and the view up the river near our house respectively:

Ain't it pretty? Note the mountains on the horizon: 70% of Japan is mountainous, so there's ALWAYS mountains on the horizon. The next photos are of 7/11 and some products therein:

From top to bottom, they are 7/11 from the outside, a STRAWBERRY sandwich (which I never tried in the end...), a selection of colourful juiceboxes, a selection of bento, and HOT drinks (an invention for which the inventor deserves a highly prestigious award). Foreign shops, especially Japanese ones it seems, are awesome.

Next, on the way back to the Philosopher's Walk, which we planned to continue today, we swung by 知恩院 (Chion-in temple). It was opposite the bench we ate on for the past two days, but for some reason we didn't check it out yet. It was really nice - just the kind of traditional Japanese architecture I'd craved to see! After the temple, we went to a video games shop (big contrast!) and stayed for so long that a random guy (possibly a bouncer) started following us. We then gave up on the Philosopher's Walk because of the time and so headed home via an incredibly eclectic 100円 store:

When I say eclectic, I mean eclectic by the way. Products inside ranged from food and drink, to cheap electronics, to shoehorns (suspiciously phallic ones, at that), gadgets, toys, magic tricks, clothes, rubber slippers, beauty products and pretty much everything in between. I identified the potential of the products as souvenirs, but also identified my budgetary issues. For that reason we spent around an hour selecting the best products for our money; Aaron spent a lot and I didn't. Here's what I got:

Clockwise from top left, and all at 100円 a piece, they are Fanta Melon, noodles, Nivea hand cream (these three were actually ALL more than 100円), hot chilli powder, tomato pasta sauce, pasta, Pokémon tissues (YEAH!), incense, and a 40cm ruler.

All necessary purchases, of course.

The rest of the evening was spent relaxing, talking, relaxing, eating, eating, talking, feeling sick, relaxing, talking and sleeping.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

day #2 in Japan

I had around 14 hours sleep which was nice, and resulted in me feeling less like death than yesterday (also nice). Upon waking up, Alex and Chris gave us a mobile to use. It was only capable of receiving calls, so we used Alex's phone to ring Jay and give him the number, then headed out.

The plan was to head to 銀閣寺 (Ginkaku-Ji (Temple of the Silver Pavilion)), at the start of the 哲学の道 (Tetsugaku no Michi (Philosopher's Path)). The path passes many temples and shrines, and is considered one of Kyoto's best sights. It takes its name from the Kyoto University philosophy professor who is thought to have meditated there daily. We stopped to buy lunch at a 7/11 on the way, then sat on a bench and ate it. It was here that I scrawled my first thoughts about Japan (scrawlings which I am now using as a basis for this post). After lunch Jay rang and said they had arrived, so we made haste towards the proposed meeting spot.

Unfortunately some shops and other interesting sights filled the gap between us and Jay's party, so we were hugely delayed. This meant that by the time we reached Ginkaku-Ji, Jay and co had already passed through and were waiting for us in a cake shop nearby. The grounds of Ginkaku-Ji were lovely. The ¥500 (~£3.50) entry fee was well worth it. While the temple itself is off limits, a picturesque walk up the adjacent mountain provides great views (which unfortunately I did not manage to capture because my camera died AS SOON AS we went in (bah)). Below is an image (from Wikipedia) of the temple and the sand garden. The carefully constructed pile of the sand at the centre represents Mt Fuji.

(Edit: I found a good article explaining some of the history of Japanese gardens.)

Eventually we reached the Ginkaku-Ji gift shop, and saw our first example of Engrish (defined by Wiktionary as "Ungrammatical or nonsensical English found in East Asia, especially Japan"). A security camera at one end of the shop had a sign above it saying "The security camera is observing", which was fair enough. A camera at the opposite end of the shop, however, claimed that "The security camera is being observed". Either this was a very philosophical and roundabout warning, or just a poor translation. Whichever is the case, it made me laugh.

After leaving the grounds and collecting Jay, Simon and James from aforementioned cake shop, we continued the walk. At this point, however, it was becoming dark and the optimum temple-and-shrine-viewing hours were coming to a close. We continued nonetheless, and arrived at what we thought was a temple about 20 minutes after. It turned out to be a graveyard just under half way up a mountain, but it was still picturesque (and serene) and so we had a quick walk around. Aaron said the spirits were welcoming us (or him at least), a vibe which I didn't detect unfortunately.

Further along the walk we reached a small shrine along a backstreet, and looked at it for a while. I don't know what it was honouring unfortunately, but it's something I would like to find out. By this time the temple-and-shrine-viewing hours had ended, and so we decided to catch a bus to Gion, then walk through it towards Kyoto, with the intention of finding an 居酒屋 (Izakaya (traditional Japanese drinking place that also serves food designed for sharing)).

For those of you who don't know, 祇園 (Gion) is Japan's famous 芸者 (geisha) district (although Gion geisha go by the local name 芸子 (geiko) (note: geisha and geiko (and indeed all Japanese words) are the same for both singular and plural forms)). Although much rarer now than before the Second World War, geisha can occasionally be seen in Gion. Unfortunately we were not lucky enough to see any, or even any 舞子 (maiko (apprentice geisha)).

The walk through Gion was lovely, nonetheless. Most of the buildings there are in their original state, and so there is a strong feeling of history as you walk through. The prices of the restaurants along the streets represent this fact, however, and so we looked elsewhere for food. Below is an image (from Wikipedia again) of a typical Gion street:

On the other side of Gion (to where we went in) was Kawaramachi - one of Kyoto's busiest streets. The intersection of Shijo Kawaramachi is hugely busy (and touristy), and it is here that we found the Izakaya we had long longed for. Unfortunately the wait for a table was just over an hour, and we only persevered because of the frequent, enthusiastic, entertaining and seemingly random shouts of employees (something like "EEEEYYYEEEAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!"). Upon being seated, we ordered 12 dishes and a drink each, then moved table to a bigger one and had to carry all of the plates, drinks and cutlery to the other table.

The concept is something like Tapas, in that you order many cheap dishes, and share them out. The menu ranged from traditional Japanese dishes to chips, and we sampled things from both ends of the spectrum. It was gooooooood. There is no smoking ban in Japan, however, and Aaron is particularly sensitive to smoke, so he didn't enjoy himself as much as the rest of us (which was a shame). We left after an hour or two of eating and talking, then had a look around the nearby shops for a while before saying our goodbyes and heading home.

It was a good first full day in Japan!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

day #0 in the UK and Germany and day #1 in Japan

The observant among you may have noticed that the location in my profile has changed from "Toronto, Canada" to "Tokyo, Japan". The especially observant among you may have noticed that this change is, in fact, two weeks late (the Japan part at least).

I'm currently coming out of a prolonged period of what I like to think of (rather smugly) as writer's block. (Being a writer 'n all!). All the drafts, scraps and snippets of things that happened in Canada that are worth writing about, probably worth reading about, but too much effort to assemble into comprehendable prose at the moment are saved (both here and in my mind), so maybe one day you'll have the pleasure of reading them.

For now, however, I'll begin writing about the wondrous experience that I am currently... experiencing...

A good friend of mine was lucky enough to come across two free plane tickets to anywhere in the world. I won't go into details because frankly it's none of your business (I jest!), but will instead tell you that he decided on Japan as the location, and me as traveler #2. (I am immensely grateful for this, as I have been interested in visiting Japan for a long time now).

So now, after much planning, deliberating, plotting, scheming, arranging, brainstorming, scheming, devising, formulating, outlining and organizing... We are both in Japan.

This post (as with so many of mine recently) is backdated: it details events that took place on the 27th and 28th of December last year, although I am writing it on January 10th of this year. Or next year if I get into character, I guess. Backdated posts have pros and cons: in terms of pros I can post whenever the hell I want and it will still fit neatly into my post history, and I have a full memory (aided by written notes) of the day's events to work from rather than an "in progress" post that would be produced on the day. In terms of cons, they're confusing for me to keep track of and for people to read if they've read a later post than the backdated one, because they aren't sure what goes where or when goes who.

So I apologise.

The journey to Japan was a relatively simple (if not prolonged) one. I woke up at 4.30am on December 27th, after a jolly nice boxing day with my Grandparents and cousins. I gathered my things, went downstairs, then waited 'til 5.30am for Aaron to arrive. Aaron's Dad then drove us through the empty streets of London to Heathrow airport, where we checked in without disturbance, and bummed around in the departure lounge for a few hours. During this time (bear in mind it was around 9am) I had a shot of Bailey's (free sample - couldn't refuse), shopped in Harrod's (for customary presents for any Japanese families we visited), and sat around doing nothing.

We boarded the plane in a hurry after the shortest boarding period ever (I went for a pee just after it said "boarding commenced" and when I left the toilet (maximum 2 minutes) there was an announcement for last boarding call and they were closing the gate). What a polava.

The flight to Frankfurt was fairly uneventful. I think I slept for most of it.

Frankfurt was dull. We looked around the generic airport briefly, laughed heartily at some ironic postcards, then sat down until the plane to Osaka was ready. It snowed a bit.

The plane to Osaka was much more interesting; despite feeling ill (why does altitude make a cold so much worse?), I did my best to enjoy the flight: I had Coke, wine, Baileys and more Coke, as well as a rather good beef goulash for dinner. The flight film was "Up", which I had been eager to watch for a while. It was funny.

Upon arrival in Osaka, I felt too ill to really appreciate being in Japan, which was a dreadful shame. I hoped the feeling would subside throughout the day, but unfortunately it did not. We met Jay after lightning fast customs (half an hour from the BACK of the queue, AND including baggage claim), then talked a while, and headed for the station.

Jay knew I was strapped for cash, and so graciously paid for my ticket to Osaka (again, I'm hugely grateful!). We made our way to the platform, marveled at the sight of the first authentic Japanese vending machine (I heard rumors that there were more vending machines than people here, so it was something to behold), then boarded a semi-express train.

Note: The trains here are very confusing. There are local trains, express trains, semi-express trains (which are faster than the express ones...) and super-ultra-rapid express trains (or some combination of similar adjectives). Each stops at different stops, goes different speeds, and sometimes has different fares too. It's particularly bewildering because it's all in Japanese... The maps look like they were drawn by someone on acid, too (Google won't let me post a picture unfortunately).

I slept for most of the journey to rid myself of whatever hideous disease had me in its grips (aforementioned cold), but still felt like rot in Osaka. We traversed the station, then walked around the streets a bit looking at things (everything was so Japanese!), before going for a budget meal at サイゼリヤ (Saizeriya - a budget Italian restaurant in Japan). I had Doria, which for some reason means rice covered in bolognese sauce. It was nice! But as I've said twice before, I felt ill, and so I slept at the table while Jay and Aaron decided what to do.

They decided to take me to Osaka where I could curl into a ball and die.

Jay put us on a train, and we arranged to meet Chris and Alex at the other end. We sat around for ages at an entrance to "The Cube" in Kyoto station, which we thought was a shop but turned out to be a gigantic shopping mall with around 500 separate entrances. After waiting for 30 minutes we phoned Alex and Chris and told them we were lost, and they came to the rescue.

We walked through Kyoto a bit, saw the tower, acknowledged how relaxed and carefree the attitude was here, exchanged stories, and then got on a train. The house they were staying at is along the Kamo river in Kyoto, which we walked along, exchanging more stories, until we arrived.

I dumped my bags and crawled into bed in a sorry state until morning, while Aaron went to the shop and stayed up for a large portion of the night talking. I think I made the right decision from a healing perspective, whereas he made the right one from a social perspective.

1 all.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

let's dance to Darwin Deez

to the tune of "Let's Dance to Joy Division" by The Wombats

♫ I'm back in London now,
And everything seems the same,
But I worked something out abroad,
That changed this little boys brain,
A small piece of advice,
That's taken twenty years in the make,
And I will break it for you now,
Please learn from your mistakes
Or they'll remain mistakes ♫

Let's dance to Darwin Deez,
'cuz they're awesome.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

my advent calendar

I suggested that everyone in the house get an advent calendar, and we put them all on one wall. This didn't happen, unfortunately (everyone's not as childish as I'd hoped!), but Nora noticed my desire for daily chocolate and bought me an Ice Age 3 advent calendar!


After eating 5 of 32 chocolates (it counts down to the 1st of January!), it hit me that this advent calendar, if used properly, will see 3 continents.

I think that's pretty impressive!

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Christmas v.1

We decided to have a Huron Christmas on the 11th December, because it's the last date everyone will be in the house. The plan is to do a Secret Santa and have a little party.

Last night we went to Metro to buy the tree. It was $45 for a real one, and it's about 8 feet tall. We ignored the "cut an inch off the bottom of me" advice, and instead shoved it in a bucket of water, and tied the top to a hook in the ceiling to prevent it from falling over.

Here's me and Aaron with the tree:

In true Co-op fashion, there's loads of abandoned Christmas decorations about the house. We gathered them up, and applied them all to the tree. Here's the end result:

Over the next week, presents for aforementioned Secret Santa will start appearing underneath. There's talk of all chipping in and making a big Christmas dinner, too, which would be nice! At the moment however it's just Secret Santa, loads of food and drink, and maybe Hide and Seek (awesome!).

Nora made Christmas cookies too, it's all very festive in the house at the moment!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

a lame statistic

I found out today that this is Toronto's first November in SEVENTY years without snow.

I certainly hope there's some in December! Snow was one of the determining factors when deciding where to study and it'd be a shame to come home without seeing any!

Edit: Nora wrote about this too, stating it might be the first in 162 years!

Read it here!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

speaking in platitudes

So, I've fallen drastically behind on the blog once again. I don't want to explain because it seems that every post I've published recently consists primarily of an explanation, but I will say this: the distractions have been good!

Today marks the beginning of the winding down of my time in Canada; I've booked my flights (thanks Camille!!!), inadvertently made a countdown of days (it was supposed to be a revision timetable!), and realised just how nice it's going to be being home for Christmas ( =] ).

I mentioned my revision timetable: I have 4 exams over the next 16 days. Two for Music, and two for Psychology. I have the usual pre-exam anxiety, but I don't think I have much to worry about. James Yarmolinsky assures me that 200 code courses (second year) are "stupidly easy", or something similar. Let's hope he's right, eh?

I also mentioned distractions: the last couple of weeks in the house have been fairly crazy. We've got two new housemates, Jórge and Gonzalez, the former of whom is from the jungle and the latter from the rainforest. The fact that they are both plush toys doesn't seem to hinder their housemate status; both enjoyed full voting rights at Sunday's house meeting, and both participate regularly in house activities. James (and to a lesser extent myself) has had less work than everyone else in the house, and so has been acting extra-crazy: he's introduced new nicknames for everyone in the house (I'm "Rudeboy"), and initiated an unusual amount of (partial) nudity.

More things have been happening, including painting, concerts, trip to Montreal, English invasion, Dance Cave, film nights, comedy marathons, culinary genius, and much, much more, but as I said at the start, I've fallen behind blogging and these posts are yet to come.

I'm also on a Biffy Clyro inspired literary venture at the moment: several of their albums and songs are named after, or are taken from, books, and I'm going to try and read all of aforementioned books. I'm currently reading "I, Lucifer", a book written from the perspective of Lucifer (Satan); the fallen angel who has been given a chance at salvation. Very interesting indeed.