Thursday, January 26, 2006
A few days ago we went to visit Yamaga, about 60 km north of Kumamoto. We did a bit of sightseeing around the town, which has a small "old" section with traditional wood houses, rikshaws, and an old theater. We took a tour of the theater and also went to a museum that showcases the unique lantern hats that women don during the annual bon festival to celebrate ancestors.
The hats look like ornate, metal lanterns, but are completely made of paper and glue. Women attach them to their heads, flick a switch to turn on the light (in the past, the lights were candles), and then dance around in a huge circle. There were some time elapsed exposures that were quite reminiscent of pictures of pilgrims circling the Kaaba in Mecca.
After wandering around the town a while, we went to an onsen (hot spring) a short distance away. For about 7 bucks, we soaked in a hot, slightly sulfuric spring and just relaxed for an hour. It was the first time I'd been to one since living here, and was a pretty interesting experience. Here's how it went...
1. First, one buys a ticket. There were a few options, and the Y700 one got you an hour in the tub, and some time in the "relaxing" room.
2. You find the right room (i.e., don't wander into the girls side if you're a guy).
3. Put your stuff in an available locker. Take it all off...fold it neatly, and stuff it in. Grab it quickly as it "jack-in-the-boxes" out because it is not designed for big, American clothes. Wad it up and stuff it in because 4 nekkid guys are are waiting for you to get out of the way so they can get to their locker.
4. Avert your eyes because anywhere you look there are other nekkid dudes standing around. Try not to be uncomfortable.
5. Find an open spigot along the wall and give yourself a good washing. Use the little bucket that you pick up on the way in and the available soap and shampoo. Once good and clean, rinse the bucket and the little stool you sat on and find an open spot in the big tub.
6. Put one toe in the water to test how hot it is. Resist the urge to scream, as this will cause your stoic Japanese comrades nearby to snicker at your weak American pain threshold. Take it out and walk around like you forgot something.
7. Casually walk from tub to tub until you find one that is not the temperature of lava from the volcano that is heating the spring. SSSSSlllllllllloooooooowwwwwwwwwllllllllllyyyyyyy lower yourself into the water, again grimly bearing the searing away of the nerve endings in your skin. Express no surprise at the layer of skin that has separated itself and now sits next to you like some homunculus.
8. Eventually, after gettin your Y700 worth of sitting in boiling water, hop out, and rinse yourself off with cool water to reduce your core temperature back to normal.
9. Go to the relaxing room and faint.
It was a pretty good time, and is one of the defining experiences of Japan. In days before indoor plumbing, people would go to public baths. In towns with hot springs, onsens naturally sprung up. It was a big social activity as well. Wikipedia has a pretty good article on onsens HERE.
After the soak, we got some supper...Y1000 for pretty much all we could eat. We had, among other things, tempura, sushi, sashimi, basashi (raw horse), salad and soup. We also got to watch the final match of the January sumo basho up in Tokyo, an upset by Tochiozuma over Asashoryu. Go to http://www.banzuke.com/~movies/hatsu2006/150106mov.html for the last days matches.
Lanterns in the theater
It was a great day, though, with a nice mix of sightseeing and relaxation. I highly recommend it.
Friday, January 20, 2006
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
We discovered a new restaurant last night, right next to the Italian place. It's sort of a surfer bar, very small, with a laid back vibe. It had a good selection of food, including Jamaican jerked chicken. Strange to find that on the menu, frankly. But, it was pretty good. The prices were quite reasonable, and we ate our fill for about $60. That's darn good for Japan...At a few of the places we know well, we only get one entree, as the portions are big enough for both of us. Plus, it keeps costs down. It's just a really expensive country.
I'm (David) getting ready to head out for our annual Yama Sakura exercise, and will be gone for about a month or so...That seems like a long time until you compare it with what we used to have to endure (3 months). Both of us will be pretty busy, though, so the time will fly by. Melody has to do some traveling as well, and will be back in the States for the first time in almost 2 years. So if you see someone driving a rental car and the wipers go on when she makes a turn, that's probably her. She'll be in Colorado for a conference, and then will be heading to Texas for a few days with her folks. They're excited to see her, as one might imagine. We'll make the trek back once again in April to see people in earnest. It will be a bold venture, hitting CA, TX, AL, NC and VA, and maybe, if we have the time, FL. We have a lot of family and friends between the two of us...and thusly, a lot of ground we're going to try to cover.
Let me throw in a few pictures, since it's long overdue that I do so...
From the November trip to the Fuji area...
This was taken from the bus...it was a hip shot of sorts, and turned out pretty well, I thought. Conveys a sense of movement, like that guy's going somewhere and nobody's going to stop him. I was pleased with the results...
Fuji from the bus window...absolutely majestic. If you look along the right side of the mountain, just before the sky, you can see the trail leading up to the top, zigzagging along. Friends who have climbed it (we'll make the trip next summer) say that it's like climbing up an ashtray.
Sunday, January 15, 2006
Sunday, January 08, 2006
The Daihatsu "NAKED" Possibly the strangest name for a car that I've ever heard.
**"Nama" = Draft
The ultimate in convenience food...A French Fry Vending Machine. I LOVE this country!!
Put your money in the slot, make your selection, and for 120 seconds of patience, you're rewarded with some slightly soggy but definitely french fry-y french fries.
We saw this little statue and it reminded us of our friend Colin back in VA. Not that he's short and made of ceramic, but he's a crusty sailor man who is often seen walking around with a mug (and we mean that with great respect and admiration).
Friday, January 06, 2006
The weather was cold and wet, but it was an exciting prospect to get to see a real live Emperor. Neither Toshi nor Aki had seen him before, so it was just as cool for them as it was for me. Unfortunately, Melody had to work, so she wasn't able to join us. But, I'll take her down next year, now that I know how it works.
We linked up at the Tokyo station, a hugely busy place, and started the short 20 minute walk over to the Emporer's palace area. As we got closer, security tightened. There were several folks handing out small Japan national flags to wave (which I unfortunately lost...another reason to go back next year), and a police woman on a horse.
Finally, we got close to the palace, and began the walk up to the viewing area.
"Move along folks! Nothing to see here!!"
The palace and reviewing area where we waited for the Emperor in the rain.
The crowd went wild, and waved their flags with gusto.
Wave those flags
Emperor Akihito spoke for about 4-5 minutes, giving his New Year's greetings and well-wishes to the people. While he spoke, I was struck by the polite reverence that the crowd gave him. In the US of A, there would probably be protesters of every ilk pitching their grievances...it was a nice change.
HELLLOOOOOO TOKYOOOOO!!! WHAT UP, MY PEEPS!?!?!
"OK, folks...that's it...go home!"
"But don't forget your souvenirs!"
Me and Toshi at the moat
Cool looking building in daytime...
Cool looking building at night...
Alleyway near the Tokyo Station
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
After a year with Bootsn'All, and a good one at that, I think we're going to migrate over here to Blogspot. Bootsn'All is still a great travel site, and we frequent it often, but the blog part of it is pretty limiting. It's a fairly fixed format, and doesn't allow the kind of creativity that we'd like to interject to keep it fresh. This site will allow us more flexibility in content, to post some of our favorite links, and may even allow us to do some commerce if we ever decide to offer photos for sale. Not sure how that would work just yet, but we'll figure it out.
Also, in the technical realm, I started using the (free) Firefox browser, and for some reason, the Movable Type buttons that show up on Internet Explorer don't all show up when using Firefox...minor detail, yes, but sort of an annoying one. Blogger is apparently set up to be optimized with Firefox. So, bottom line, we're going to give it a whirl.
We'll keep the Bootsn'All site open, of course, and may update it from time to time still to keep it from getting kicked off their server, but I'll post the link to this new site at the top of the page. Please keep in mind that if you'd like to surf back over there to see history, you're of course welcome and encouraged to do so!
So, then...Go up to your menu and bookmark this site!