Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Japanned, Day Six

My Wife and I went to Japan for ten days. We had a blast. I took notes.


Today was the day we planned to take a day trip to Hiroshima...

We were both a little slow getting started today. Our hotel room was pretty comfortable. But despite our heavy sloth, we managed to get back to Exit 6 (no need for a cab this time), hopped the subway at Karasuma Oike Station, and took it the couple of stops over to Kyoto Station. There we used our handy-dandy JR Pass to scoot on through the turnstile, up the escalator to our train, and... made it! Just in time too, as the train pulled away just as we sat down. We were off! Choo-choo!

Straight to Shin-Osaka...

Hmmm... this is not Hiroshima...

But this is where the train has stopped. Technically, it's supposed to, I guess. Shin-Osaka is the next stop on the route after leaving Kyoto, but... this superfast bullet train doesn't seem to be going anywhere. In fact, it seems to be staying here... That's weird... Eventually there was an announcement in Japanese and everyone got up and started getting off the train. Ela and I watched this small parade for a moment, exchanged a glance, and followed suit. We soon discovered that all of the trains were stopped at Shin-Osaka. All of them. The Departure Board was emptying of departures. I don't know what they said in that announcement, but no one else seemed very affected by this sudden change in plans. They got off the train and just... kept walking, filing down the escalators with their rolly bags and portfolios and totes, to disappear, off to wherever it is they suddenly and silently decided to go to. Maybe there was a party somewhere, and no one wanted to invite the Americans... Hmmm...

Anyway, before you could say "Japanese efficiency", we were alone on the platform.

It was at this point we rather keenly felt the absence of our Japanese translators...

We never did figure out why the trains had all stopped. Maybe something happened on the tracks to the south? Ninja fight? Zentradi invasion? Godzilla attack?

Who knows, probably a mix of all three, honestly. The only thing we did know was that there were no other options when it came to continuing on to Hiroshima. At least none that we could see, or find out through an quick game of Charades with various locals, so we ditched that plan. Screw it, we said--after a quick bathroom break--time for Plan B. We'd try to make it to Hiroshima tomorrow, and spend today seeing the local sights in Kyoto instead.

We eventually found a train back to Kyoto, although it seemed more like a trolley. Once we were back at Kyoto Station, we knew how to get home, eventually climbing back up the long stairs of Karasuma Oike Station again, and exiting through Exit 6, out onto the sidewalk of Karasuma Dori. Home again, home again, and the whole day laid out before us.

First on the list: The Nishiki Market.

Known as "The Kitchen of Kyoto", the Nishiki Market is a narrow, 5 block long alley lined with merchant stalls and food vendors and all sorts of random stuff. It's over 700 years old, too, that makes it older than Columbus and his genocide, kids. Best of all, it was only a couple of blocks from our hotel, and it was a pleasant day, so we walked over.

The place was packed with people--kids in colored hats by the thousands, of course, squealing herds of teenagers, families, old people, and lots of tourists...

Also, it was here that I saw the biggest trio of South Africans I have ever seen in my entire life. Now, granted, I haven't seen that many South Africans in person or anything, but these three had to be special. They had to be! They were big, blond giants, huge! Two men and a woman, and they were seven feet tall, if they were an inch, maybe more, and they were lumbering though the tiny crowd like slow, pale, mostly hairless bigfoots (bigfeet?), all of them babbling away in a language that made me think of Lethal Weapon 2. Unfortunately, they were all wearing ugly hippy sandals, too short running shorts, and some seriously ill-advised rat-tails, so I wasn't a fan, despite my well-documented love of Cryptozoology. Plus, the woman had a tattoo of Africa in the middle of her back, between her shoulder blades, with South Africa highlighted. What the hell is that? Is that just in case she AND A FRIEND get lost? Is it for national identification purposes? If it's a sex thing for giants, I don't get it.

I didn't take a picture because, y'know... Bigfoot. It's tradition.

But I digress...

Nishiki Market was raucous and noisy, voices shouting, clashing with tinny radios blaring from each stall, American pop and Japanese love songs mangling one another. The food was colorful and odd, laid out across long stalls, and sooooo good. Those squid pops were delicious, man. Beneath the multi-colored glass high overhead, the alley was cool and dim, shaded from the bright sun outside.

And it smelled. It smelled like baking heat rolling out of an oven, and icy tendrils of refrigerated cold. Like the salty damp of a nearby ocean, like slippery piles of fish slowly getting mushy on beds of melting ice, like the greasy spatters of frying oils and the sudden warm inhalation of fresh bread. Like tart and tangy, sour scents made the mouth ache and water. Green tea in humid clouds, the matcha smelling like blended vegetables. There was a sense of long storage too, the physical smell of age, like opening a cedar trunk onto stacks of dusty fabric. It smelled of sweat, and of too many people too close together, too hot from the sun. It smelled like a gentle cool breeze touching at your neck, and then it was standing water in the gutters, of rot and earth, all of it suddenly catching your attention, wafting past at unexpected moments. The place smelled like everything.

It was like a Shadow Market out of a story.

Ela shopped for more souvenirs--because you never know when you might find the perfect knick-knack to foist upon a friend, family member, or general office acquaintance--while I stopped at a ticket stall to purchase what I thought was going to be ice cream, but instead turned out to be some kind of hot gooey-battered fish ball thing... Not cool, Japan!

Luckily, the next stall had a cup of fried chicken.

Don't mind if I do...

Such a good idea...

We wandered the entire length of Nishiki Market. It T-intersections at a covered pedestrian mall. Straight across, like a capstone to the market, is the Nishiki Tenmangu Shrine. It's dedicated to Sugawara Michizane. He is now known as the spirit of wisdom, study, and good business sense, and apparently was a statesman, scholar, poet and politician 1000 years ago. There's a "Petting Cow" statue out front, and if you pet it, it's said to bring success to your studies. The shrine also has a 300 meter deep well, and the water is advertised as being "tasteless, odorless, germ-free, and suitable for drinking" which is always a bonus...

A couple blocks of shopping stretch away from each side of the Temple. This is the Shinkyogoku Street Arcade. It is much more modern and familiar, with more Western-like stores, shoes, clothes, jewelry, it's basically the more upscale end of the Flea Market. If you're looking for samurai sword umbrellas or multi-colored maneki neko or throwing star magnets that look like they've been thrown into the side of your fridge, well too bad! You're out of luck, kid, so just turn around and head back up Nishiki Market, because it's classy down here, there's nothing but Iphones and puffy jackets and shit. So, after browsing a bit, Ela and I ate in a First Kitchen, which is basically Japan's Burger King... at least, the crispy chicken sandwich tasted the same,

After a lot of looking, a lot of browsing, and a lot of strange and familiar stuff, we left the Shinkyogoku Street Arcade behind, looped around, and ended up back on Karasuma Dori. The afternoon was waning, but we still had time, so we headed back toward our hotel, and past it, heading on to the Manga Museum.

Now, I wasn't entirely sure what we'd find here.

I'm almost positive Ela had zero idea what this place could be. I think she only knew that it was some comic book/general nerd type stuff, so... obviously this was for me (the same reasoning that led to people buying me Star Trek stuff as a kid...), so she was super hot on going. Myself? At best, I was expecting an embarrassing amount of half-naked, big tittie, and vaguely underage school girl cartoons and more than a few tentacle rape murals, and that's before it got really weird...

Excuse me, Miss... but is that Chu-hi you're drinking?

But... Ela was all excited for us to share something, so fuck it, lets go look at some cartoon boobies.

What we found was pleasantly surprising: An old school building with creaking, well-polished wooden floors, long quiet hallways, cool-to-the-touch yellow concrete walls, and a gentle hush, that had been converted into an beautiful space, open and inviting, and housing an extensive collection of manga and original art, a collection that extended back for decades. It wasn't creepy at all, actually. It looked like a cross between a Children's Museum and a small art gallery. There were amazing reading spaces and quiet nooks, shelves of books everywhere, framed art, giant installations, displays about the history and creation and the state of mange in other countries. The front yard was a wide expanse of welcoming green.

There was also a place to buy souvenirs, of course. I bought a Princess Mononoke sweat towel.

Don't get me wrong, people... this is some deep, deep, deep nerd territory we're talking about here. This is a place for the kind of nerd who treats anime and manga as a legitimate academic pursuit. This place is like a library for nerdom... I mean, more than a usual library. If you were wondering where all the chubby, white anime nerds visiting Kyoto were... they're all here, my friends, King Nerds, safe in their natural habitat, lounging on the arty couches and eating weird Japanese snacks. This place is Nerd Valhalla, people.

Seriously though, it was actually pretty neat.

We left the museum as it was closing. Dusk had fallen, and we walked the couple of blocks back to our hotel as the streetlights came on and people sat in sidewalk cafes, idle and chatting. In Japan, the housing is often really tiny, especially in the cities. Your apartment usually will not be big enough to really hang out in--let alone have people over--it will just be the place where you shit, shower, shave, and sleep. And since they don't use their balconies, many people will opt to not go home right after work, and instead they'll just stay out, only heading home at the end of the night. The result is an active community that is out and about in its city, mingling and shopping and generally being together. It was very nice.

I kid. It actually was pretty nice. It felt vibrant.

We dropped off our stuff in our room and started thinking about dinner options. This took us forever, of course, but we eventually choose Sukiyaki. Sukiyaki is meat (usually thinly sliced beef), which is slowly cooked at the table, with vegetables and other ingredients in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, and mirin--which is a kind of rice wine--in an iron pot. And before you eat it, you dip it in a small bowl of raw, beaten eggs.

It's delicious, but... it was a bad idea.

Here's why:
1. While we were looking up our dinner options, it rained. Suddenly, it was humid as hell.
2. The restaurant was in a basement, so all those steaming pots meant the place was a sauna.
And those two things together?

I basically melted.

It was awful. Well, the food was good, but the experience was awful. After this, we were definitely ready for a restaurant that did the cooking for us. All around disappointing. Plus, it was a super muggy trek the couple of blocks back to our hotel. I was so glad to get back and have a shower, because I felt like shit.

This might be a good time to mention how fantastic Japanese toilets are.

Look at all those buttons, a bidet and a water spray, pressure controls, and a heated seat? The Japanese know how to poop, man. I've heard that in some Women's Restrooms, there's even a button for music, so everyone will think you're in that stall just to rock out, and not to take a monster dump. Now, personally I wasn't a fan of the heated seat, maybe in winter I might change my tune, but mostly it just made my butt cheeks feel like they were really sweaty, and I don't want that, especially when it's not true. The spray function was a whole other story, though. Let me tell you, it works like gangbusters, people. I was walking around giving new meaning to the phrase "zestfully clean". Plus, how can you not love the picture on the spray button. It's purpose is clear in any language! I'm a complete fan of the Japanese toilet. They're brilliant. The only reason I can think of why these type of toilets aren't a huge thing here is America, is the Toilet Paper Conglomerate.

Lobbyists are killing this county.

Also, just fyi...

Today was a lot of fun, another long day with a lot of walking, so at the end of it all, we had some Saki and flopped back into our giant-ass bed. Tomorrow, we're gonna make it the whole way to Hiroshima. This, I swear!

Day Six Done,


Mark Teats said...

That's the best sweat towel ever.

Jon said...

It is pretty awesome

the library bird said...

forgot to comment on yesterday's post about the ramen...yummmm. love the 700 year old market's history of scents. buying ice cream and getting a fish ball, ha.

the library bird said...

best sweat towel ever! i could spend all day at the manga museum - looked dreamy.

the library bird said...


the library bird said...

Mini shower is a life changer! Aquaus Chrome Toilet-Mounted Bidet at Lowes. Bring the best of Japan home!

Jon said...

Yes, the ramen really was delicious and the Manga museum was great too. It would be a nice place to lounge the day away. I was super excited by that sweat towel. It's my second favorite souvenir from the trip.

I don't know about the bidet... without the buttons? It just wouldn't be the same