The First Week is Behind Me

Hiroshima Travel Blog

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At the Sumo Match in Osaka with my wrestler doll
Hello all, I am getting used to Japanese things like being able to cross intersections on the diagonal, taxi door opening automatically, and up escalators being on the left. This has been a quiet weekend with most of the students gone to Tokyo or Nagano, I just left the hotel and they are back furiously writing papers and getting ready for presentations tomorrow. Friday I was up early and met with the Georgia tech VIPs who were visiting the program and went to the Imperial Household Agency to make reservations to visit Katsura Villa for later in the day. It is a very formal process and, if you remember from my first e-mail, I had failed miserably before. This time it was not a problem. We had our appointment time set for 1:30, so I left them to take a tour with some of the professors. I rejoined them at Katsura Villa, which is supposed to be one of the finest examples of Japanese architecture in the country and has one of the first strolling gardens. We all arrived sufficiently early, and the tour (which was in Japanese) started right on time. I just did what the Japanese people did, when they would look at a tree, I would look at a tree, when they would laugh at the tour guides jokes, I would laugh at his jokes. Katsura was incredibly beautiful, the garden was exactly what I thought a perfect Japanese garden should look like, it has four teahouses, one for each season. The entire time we toured, we were followed by what looked like a secret service agent, this tour was no joke -- the only thing we heard in English was the exact spots we could take pictures from. Exactly one hour later, we were outside the bamboo fence and on our way to the Temple of 1000 Buddhas with 1000 arms. It was a cold day, and Buddhist temples are a bit drafty, so my socks weren't enough to keep my feet warm, but a room filled with 1000 wooden Buddhas (so intricately carved, I thought they were bronze) is impressive enough to linger. The building is the longest wooden building in Japan and is filled with National Historic treasures (no worry, they tell you on a sign if the statue you are looking at is a treasure or just a statue). If you are wondering, the statues don't actually have 1000 arms each, just 42 each, which symbolize 1000 arms, it was still a lot of arms. I headed back to the hotel after the temple, and had a message from the agent for the trip that a cell phone purchase had been aranged for me. When I get messages from the front desk, they tend to be in Japanese, which on my end, is somewhat limited, so I have them translate for me. Sometimes I am lucky with the translator and sometimes I am not. That was not a good day, as I was told that I need to get phone at a store called Kiosk. Approximately every 10 feet there is the word kiosk in the area I was shopping in, so I rephoned the agent, his name is Michael, and he said he would call back to the hotel and have them give me more specific instructions, so I headed back to the hotel. Things got better when I got back when I learned it was Vodaphone I was heading to, and that the hotel clerk was looking up the rates online for me and was gave me her name and phone number to call from Vodaphone as the people in that office do not speak English -- she offered to translate. Getting the phone was easy, I can only make a call, receive a call, make it vibrate or ring and turn it on and off, it has 9 pages of menus, but I have no idea what they do, but the icons are very cute. Saturday was a quiet day, so I decided to head up to the surrounding mountains and try out the thermal bath that is about 45 minutes away. I wanted to go there before the students found it -- I don't want to see them naked and I feel the opposite is true as well. The trip to Kurama was beautiful up into the cedar forested mountains over rivers and outside the concrete blahness of Kyoto. I got to the spa paid my 1100 yen (10 dollars) and headed up the hill to the men's bath. I had read up on the art of ritual of the bath in Japan, so I was very careful to shower before getting in the bath itself. Generally, I try to do what the other Japanese are doing, but being surrounded by naked people you don't want to look like you are looking, so I sort of had to wing it. The bath is a natural sulfur hot spring and was just perfectly hot. It was a sunny day and the mountains that surrounded it were beautiful. I noticed that people would stay in for about 15 minutes and then get out and sit outside for a few minutes and then get back in. While I was sitting on the bench figuring out how to get everything covered sufficiently with a wash cloth folded in half, a Kyotoite spoke to me and was talknig about the bath. He was visiting for the first time with his girlfriend and told me that they offer foot massages down the hill. His girlfriend was getting one and he offered to translate for me if I wanted to have one. It was only 1000 yen for a 15 minute massage so I couldn't pass that up. Reflexology is all about finding where the pain is in your foot and figuring out where that pain originates in your body. The person giving the massage basically drove his fingers into every nook and cranny of my feet with as much force as he possibly could, I had the death grip on the chair. When it would really hurt, I would let him know, by letting out a small scream, he would laugh and the guy from the bath and his girlfirend would laugh and then they would speak to each other apparently about me and my state of health and then Hideki (that was the guy from the bath) would tell me what was wrong with me. It seems, my esophagus, "balls," and "assahole" are the problem areas -- that would explain the travellers diarrhea, but my brain is very good. Saturday night, Michael had arranged for a Kyoto style dinner at a really nice restaurant in town for the tech VIPs, one of the professors, and myself. I ahve been eating a lot of Japanese food, mainly noodles and sushi, but this was an experience. We were in a tatami room on the floor with beautiful silk screens and kimono around us. I have no idea what I ordered, the picture was pretty. When it came to me, there were baby squid, baby octopus tentacles, and a bag of tiny little shrimp (sea monkeys, really) among many other things that I couldn't recognize. I ate every single thing over the course of an hour. Except for the Adzuki bean soup, it was way too sweet. After that meal, it was time to go home and feel bad for eating tiny little animals which had jsut budded or hatched or whatever and go to bed. Today was quiet as well, a roommate problem was resolved, hopefully, early on and so I had the day to myself. I took a walk to the shopping district, and went through a few of the Department stores, which were phenomenal. The kimono floors were particularly interesting. Whole families gathered around watching as daughters try on kimono -- which are hundreds of dollars if not thousands. Clothes are so expensive here and everyone seems to have Prada and Louis Vuitton and Coach -- even drug stores sell high end brands, I haven't seen any fakes yet either, you know I am always on the lookout. I saw some Issey Miyake shorts I liked at Takashimaya -- unfortuantely they were around 400 dollars, no clothes for Brett from Japan. I walked back home, and ended up taking a nap, and then came here to the internet cafe. For those of you doing the 10000 steps program with me, my pedometer is registering between 18000 and 20000 steps a day, I feel it in my legs every morning. Thats all for now, this week is Uji and the tea ceremony, Osaka and sumo wrestling, Hijemi and its castle, and probably Tokyo for a weekend day trip, a lot of students did that this weekend and have let me know some tips to see some cool stuff and still be back to Kyoto for bed. I am the newest member of the Hello Kitty Pretty Leauge, by the way. Brett
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At the Sumo Match in Osaka with my…
At the Sumo Match in Osaka with m…
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