Thursday, February 2, 2012

Travels with Saki!!! 冒険だねええええ!

Yay, it's posting time again. So for winter vacation here, I spent just a bit of time chilling out, and a bit of time traveling around with my friend Saki. We traveled on the crazy path of Yamanashi > Shizuoka/Hamamatsu > Kobe > Osaka > Mie > Gifu . For those of you that know me, you know that I've lived in many of these places. The only new one this trip was Mie, which completed my set of Kansai prefectures! Even though there wasn't a great deal of new places, it is always so much fun, even just being in transit. What I have posted here, begins on the train that already left Yamanashi. Technically there's some more from before the beginning here, but this just felt like the right place to start!

Day one(Shizuoka/Hamamatsu/Yamanashi): Began at the end of civilization! The first picture here is in Yamanashi. We traveled by train with my friend Jason, who was on his way down to Mount Fuji. He works around where this picture was taken, and claims that this is indeed, the end of civilization. We spent the day time in Shizuoka city, and ate at Sweets Paradise, which is an awesome all you can eat cake buffet! Super tasties. Originally our plan was to be in Hamamatsu, but in the end all we did there was go to the castle at night, and the toys R us to play on unicycles!

Day two we went to Kobe. Saki is really into Tetsuo Osamu - the writer of astro boy, kimba the white lion, and other famous comics... he has a museum in Kobe that we visited! The museum is in an area called Takarazuka, which is actually famous for an all girl theatre troup (called takarazuka) I had been there years ago just once, to see one of their plays. In Japanese history, most theatre groups were traditionally all male, even female characters. So in the early 1900s, Takarazuka came as kind fo a backlash against that, and became a huge hit! It was pretty nostalgic getting to be in that area again, and seeing the museum was pretty awesome too! On the train on the way to Kobe, we saw a lot of snow, right near home here in Gifu. There hasn't been a lot of it this year, so it was quite exciting^^ Lastly, we were staying with my friend Jen, who took us all around her neighborhood which is well known for Koreans and the famous Chinese story Sangokushi. Oh last awesome note: I had my first hatsumoude(traditional first visit of the year to a shrine) at a shrine in the middle of a factory!

Days three and four were in my lovely old home, Oosaka! We stayed in the coolest hotel ever, "Hotel Mikado." Saki's friend works there sometimes, and told us about it... it happened to be just in the neighborhood where I spent my summer living! So nostalgic the Tsutenkaku area. Tsutenkaku is the major tower attraction in Osaka, but it's in a rather crazy neighborhood. Pretty much, the biggest ghetto in all of Japan. I used to take Celes touring around the cusps of it when we lived there back in the day.. but all I really knew back then was the major prostitution district. Exploring deeper than that, there is an area considered taboo for basically anyone to go to, especially Japanese. We biked around there a lot, not carrying a great deal (no real pictures here)... while Baltimore is certainly ghetto, there's a different feel to this one all together. It doesn't feel as life threatening as some of the places in Baltimore I've been, but it feels incredibly more impoverished, and insane. Bonfires in the streets with dogs roaming everywhere. No women are there at all, it's literally a town of old men that were just shunned by Japanese society for reasons of either family name, or crime, or just pushed down from some association of that. The slummish areas in the pictures here are on the rim of the main ghetto, it's safer feeling in that no one is around, but you can tell that there's a reason for it.
We also went to see an amazing theatre troupe called Hanaguruma! I've never really seen this kind of traditional play before, but we were truly blown away by the awesome mixture of traditional and new day subculture of Japan^^
Of course we couldn't skip out on denden town and maid cafes.
And last, we ran into some really crazy cult churches. One in particular really drove us towards it... on Sunday as we were leaving, we met some people from the service. It was definitely an intriguing encounter.

Day five - Mie ken ~ The completion of the Kansai set! The principle from my kindergarten on Fridays had told me that the aquarium there is awesome, so we checked that out. Maybe it's a touristy and somewhat terrible hobby, but I truly love aquariums... Something about the deep, vivid colors, I can often get lost looking at even just one single tank for a very long time.... which is a lot of what we did there.
Mie is the most rural part of Japan I've ever truly visited. I've seen more rural on the train, but never truly stopped there. After the aquarium, we were thinking of going to Ise jingu which is one of the most famous shrines in all of Japan, but apparently it's pretty hard to get there late in the day, so we wandered around town and got some crazy Mie traditional udon, which was really just like noodles in soy sauce >< Such a surreal tiny little town, for being so well known in the country... Japan truly loves to promote all of its' different towns for something or another.

The last day, we went to Gero Onsen, in Gifu. I live in Gifu now, so we just stayed at my place, and took the train out. Originally I really wanted to go to Takayama or Shirakawago, but the train/bus ride is about 4 hours each way it turned out! Gero onsen was a good compromise at only 2 and a half hours each way^^ We met an Australian family traveling around for vacation, on their way to Takayama. That was at a town that looked truly major from the station, but upon exploration during a layover, turned out to be quite abandoned. There was a vendor selling this mushroom dish shown in the picture... it's a matsutake mushroom, which is often times ridiculously expensive here in Japan (up to $100 for a single mushroom) I guess this one must have been terrible quality, since it was in an amazing lunch box for only about $10! It was pretty darn tasty, but really not enough to make the case for such a high price understandable><
We reached Gero onsen, and did what you do at an onsen -- took a bath! Onsen means a hotspring, so we pretty much just bathed all day! It was a pretty awesome ending to the journey.

So this was the journey! I hope you've been entertained by the rantings of a mad young one. These days I find communication to be such an interesting task. I spend most of my days here speaking Japanese, and even sometimes find it easier to say things in Japanese than English. This by no means means that my Japanese is better than my English, but it makes for a strange brain environment. When I speak in Japanese, sometimes I get lazy about how much of a message I want to convey, and this has carried over into my English as well. I guess it's time to start working the brain hardcore!