To me the worst thing about coming back from a vacation is not the unpacking or the fact that you have to go back to work before getting a proper rest from all that exhausting fun, but it’s the writing of the unavoidable post about your trip. It’s so tedious for me that I can’t imagine it could be any fun for you, and yet, people are going to ask me how Japan was, and they’re not going to be satisfied with “It was fine,” so here I am, blogging about my Japan trip, even if it kills me.
We flew first to San Francisco, then from San Francisco to Osaka (Kansai). That second leg was about twelve hours, I think. It wasn’t bad. We’d been up since 3 a.m., so I actually slept quite a bit. It was not difficult. I also read a whole book, but not any of the books on my list of books I must read in 2010. It was a killer book. And do you know, I have no recollection of the plot now? I can’t even remember what it was called.
Upon arrival at Kansai, we took the train to our hotel in Kyoto. It was early in the evening, so we strolled about the city and we found a place to eat, which brings me to my first recommendation for people who are planning a trip to Japan.
Recommendation #1 for people who are planning a trip to Japan: Learn Japanese.
So anyway, we managed to order some food at this restaurant, mostly by way of gesturing, and it was pretty good. I’m not a fan of Japanese food in general, and I really don’t like sushi, but my husband has always been convinced that I would like sushi, if I could just have some good sushi. He’s never explained why all the sushi he’s fed me before was good enough for him but not for me, but that’s neither here nor there. He ordered some sashimi at this place, and he said it was good, but you and I will have to take his word for it, because I still didn’t like it. We also ordered some Tako Yaki, because it is an Osaka/Kyoto specialty, supposedly. Tako yaki is fried octopus balls, or rather, fried balls of octopus (as opposed to octopus testicles), and I only mention that because a) it was good, even though I’m not such a fan of the octopus in general, and b) my husband couldn’t stop saying “octopus balls” for the next several days, and I just want you to get a feel for how it was for me.
The next morning we had a traditional Japanese breakfast at the hotel. I can’t remember if there was any raw fish involved. There was some salmon, but it was cooked. There was also miso soup, which I don’t care for. I don’t care for traditional Japanese breakfast food, either, as it turns out.
Anyway, after breakfast we traveled to Kibune, which is this small fishing village, and we saw some shrines.
We stopped for lunch at another place where they didn’t speak any English and we didn’t speak any Japanese, and we had some more Japanese food. The first course was this little bowl of raw squid in honey mustard sauce. Yes, I ate the raw squid. I can still taste it, in fact. Okay, I’m going to need a minute. … All right, I’m okay now. The second course was…wait for it…sashimi! I ate (some of) the sashimi. It was at this point that I thought to myself, “If I have to eat Japanese food for the next nine days, I’m going to lose a lot of weight on this trip.” My husband informed me that the sashimi was exquisite, and conceded that it was perhaps entirely possible that I just don’t like sashimi (as I have been saying for the last thirteen years, not that anyone’s counting). I believe the rest of the meal was cooked. It was fine, although I still would have killed for a peanut butter sandwich, but that’s another story.
After lunch we hiked in the Kyoto Ancient Forest. It was very pretty. There were some more shrines.
Then we went back to the hotel and I, feeling quite ill between the jet lag and the raw squid, went to sleep and didn’t wake up again until the next morning.
The next morning we traveled with my mother-in-law (who had arrived the previous evening, while I was sleeping) to Hiroshima, where my brother-in-law and his new wife live. My BIL took us to the A-bomb dome and also to the Peace Museum (which he’d never been to, despite having lived there for the last three years). The museum is very interesting, and it takes quite a bit of time to go through. They save the worst part for last, which is all the artifacts (including skin and fingernails from one victim, but that wasn’t as bad as the melted tricycle, actually) and the artwork inspired by the horrors of nuclear war. Hiroshima is a very nice town, though. For dinner my BIL took us to get Okonomi-Yaki, which I actually enjoyed, so I can no longer say that I dislike Japanese food entirely. Just generally.
The next day was the wedding. My brother- and sister-in-law were married in a Shinto temple on Miyajima Island.
The ladies wore kimonos. We had to get up at 6:30 to go to the kimono shop. It takes a good thirty minutes to get into a kimono, just so you know. There are layers. First they bind your breasts (or in my case, my bra). Then they just keep wrapping stuff around your midsection and pulling you tighter and tighter. By the time they are finished, you can only take shallow breaths. If you yawn or sneeze, you might break a rib. That said, I have never had such good posture. And I looked pretty freaking awesome, as any fake-redheaded gaijin would in such a get-up.
Also, they gave me the biggest shoes they had, and they still weren’t big enough. Also, these shoes were seriously–seriously–the most uncomfortable shoes I’ve ever worn. They hurt from the moment I put them on. Also, they look a little silly with the socks, don’t you think? But that’s how it’s done. (Shrug.)
The wedding ceremony itself was very cool, although I didn’t really get all that was going on, it being in Japanese and me not speaking (and more to the point, not understanding) Japanese.
Fortunately, for the reception I was able to change out of the kimono and into normal clothes (and shoes) that did not enforce my good posture. I am sorry to report that I chose to wear pantyhose, but I don’t believe I looked that passe. The reception was very nice, but it was also (mostly) in Japanese. My husband and his (other, already married and not living in Japan) brother got to speak, and they spoke in English (and their speeches were translated into Japanese by the master of ceremonies). The rest of it I didn’t really get, but the food was wonderful. Mostly cooked, and not especially Japanese, although it was still a little bit Japanese. It made up for the fact that the party lasted about three hours (but seemed longer).
The next day my BIL and his wife and her mother (who spoke hardly any English, but that only meant her English was a hundred times better than our Japanese) took us on a whirlwind tour of Japan, or at least their neck of it. We went to Himeji Castle, which is supposed to shut down for the next five years, as of April 11 or something, but we didn’t actually go inside the castle because that was, like, a three hour line and none of us was up for that. The outside is perfectly impressive, though.
Then we traveled back to Kyoto, where we stayed in a Ryukan (traditional Japanese inn) for the next couple days. More Japanese food. Sleeping on futons (not as comfortable as you might imagine). I didn’t use the big bathtub, the name of which I can’t remember, because I wasn’t so into soaking with a bunch of Japanese strangers (or American acquaintances, for that matter), so I didn’t get the full traditional-Japanese-living experience, but I’m okay with that.
We visited a lot of shrines and temples (approximately 47,000), saw the Great Buddha in Nara, where we also fed some deer because there are a lot of deer in Nara, and I bought a lot of souvenir magnets. Can you tell I’m getting tired of talking about Japan? Let’s have some pictures instead.
You see, it’s very beautiful over there. It was especially beautiful because the cherry blossoms were in bloom.
Our last day was spent shopping. I bought some Snoopy chopsticks at the Snoopytown store. It was pretty awesome. Then we had to go to the airport and fly home.
The flight home sucked, incidentally. I couldn’t sleep at all. I did watch two movies: Me and Orson Welles (an Oscar-worthy performance stuck in the middle of an extraordinarily mediocre movie) and The Blind Side, which was very good. I also watched a little Californication, which was edited for airplane viewing. Lots of references to “melon farmers” and each episode was fifteen minutes long. I didn’t get much reading done, as if that didn’t go without saying.
Random factoids about Japan:
* They like to keep the insides of their buildings very warm. And humid.
* Where there are Western toilets, they are super-toilets. They all have bidets and seat warmers.
* There are a lot of rules about feet and shoes and where feet go when they are shod and when they are not.
* Some Japanese words are funny, if you’re in the fourth grade.
* There are funny signs in English, too.
* They have some seriously crazy television programs. The commercials are especially awesome.
* Lots of people ride bicycles. They don’t have bicycle racks. They have bicycle parking lots. And no one wears a helmet, not even the babies sitting in the basket on the handlebars.
* People dress better to go out in public than they do here.
* The streets are very clean and safe.
* You can see stuff like this in shopping centers.
* Celebrities who would never do advertisements over here will do them over there. Tommy Lee Jones sells Boss coffee, which makes sense. Doesn’t he look boss?
On the other hand, Leonardo DiCaprio sells Bridgestone tires, which I still can’t figure out.
* Number one important factoid about Japan: They also like the Giraffe.
I think that is all, gentle readers. And now I must adieu. Or rather, sayonara.