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Japan - Day Nine – This can’t be good PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 23 October 2018 20:10

ike I said, I’d only post if something bad happened.

And here we go.

Final day in Kyoto – shuttle pickup at 1pm, so we had a morning to wander around the city and enjoy it for a little longer. Went into a bookstore (I sound like a broken record). Look, we were travelling with small backpacks and mine was stuffed full of old clothing but hey, in the bookstore they had a copy of The Art of Porco Rosso (a movie I just adore) so I had to pick it up. JB said, sure, go ahead – if we needed to we’d jettison some of my socks and skivvies (turns out we didn’t have to, but only just – miracle that that zipper held). After that, we wandered around in a department store (remembering well after the fact that we’d wanted to eat in such a place and had forgotten – drats!) Then we stopped in an exchange shop and converted the $450 bucks in yen back to bucks-only – ended up with five banded packets of twenties – we looked like some sort of drug mules. Stuck them all in JB’s purse. Remember this point.

Returning to the hotel, JB took a misstep and sprawled on the ground the exact same way she did in Amsterdam! Talk about horrible flashbacks – here I thought she’d break something again an hour before leaving for the airport. I’m bending over to help her and suddenly four or five people in the crowd rush to help her (and one guy even fetched back her package she’d dropped). Such nice people. But she was okay, only shaken up. And me, she’d scared a year or two off my longevity.

Okay, so into the van and after some milling about, off to Osaka airport. The plan was Osaka to Tokyo to LA to Orlando – about thirty hours of planes and airports. The first hop went fine; got into Narita and through security. Once at our gate, we both went into the bathrooms for a little wee (why are you telling us this, Robert?). Then over to the gate. Still had ninety minutes before boarding so we walked to the other end of the concourse where the food places were. Ordered two meals, got a couple of drinks and a pager, found a table, sat, relaxed, and then JB asked, “Where’s my purse?”

That’s right – forty minutes ago she’d gone into the stall, done her business and left sans purse. So no meal, just a relaxing back-pack-laden run up the concourse. I got separated from her when I heard them calling her name overhead – went to the information counter but no, they hadn’t called. But they had. While I was dealing with this confusion JB crashed into the bathrooms only to encounter a policewoman. Upon hearing her story, she said, “Black purse? Come with me.” And so I waited (sweating bullets) while JB trailed the cop back through security to the airport cop shop. After long nail-biting minutes, she returned… with her purse.

Of course, we had to check it with the cops since it had been out of our possession. We opened it up and… there were all the bundles of cash. Amazing. Even more amazing, all the credit cards were there too. But then JB looked up – “Where’s my driver’s license.”

Sure enough, it was missing. Since I’d made copies of everything, I showed the police what it looked like. There was a lot of discussion with the following scenario was forwarded: someone had stolen the license. And this was a big-enough win that they’d left the cash and cards intact (so as to possibly conceal the theft). And what to do with the card? Two thoughts on this – (1) call some stateside acquaintances and break into our house (since the driver’s license showed our address and they knew we were at least thirty hours away), or (2) use it to commit identity theft. There wasn’t much we could do – we did borrow an iPhone from a person in the boarding line and send an email to JB’s sister, asking them to remain diligent in regards to our house. Otherwise, we’d just have to deal with it when we got home.

I can only say that worrying about something like this on an endless flight is about as close to hell as you can get. You can’t even pace, you just sit in your little chair and think about a call from the bank. Capital stuff, worrying.

About midway through the flight, JB suddenly tells me that this purse she has now isn’t her normal purse. That purse is at home and maybe, possibly and perhaps her driver’s license is in that one. Also, she has an identity-checking account, given to her by the government (who had to give it to employees after a massive data breach). So yes, maybe it wasn’t gone. Maybe this was all a horrible mistake. So we decided the plan was to get home, check the purse, then bring up the software and start locking down all our credit.

And so it was a long, long flight home.

We got in at 6am in the morning. As soon as the door was open, she crossed to her table and started rooting through her “real” purse. Me, I just stood with a confident air – of course that must be what happened. The license had to be in her purse. Case closed. Whew. What an adventure.

“It’s not in here,” she told me.

Oh, shit.

So there I am at 6:30, wigged out after a full day in airliner prison, trying to figure out how this software tool works and checking our various accounts. I’m elbow deep in all this when JB says, “I think I know where it might be…”

She reminded me that long ago, the day before our trip, I’d taken all our passports, credit cards and documentation and made copies at work. Well, almost all. Her driver’s license, she’d copied herself (since she’d need it for her errands that last day). And she’d given me the copy of the license. But where had the card gotten to?

At 8am, I was on the phone to Staples, asking their counter guy if someone had left a driver’s license on the copier. “Let me check,” he said, going back to the office and checking the store safe. Insert Jeopardy waiting music here.

“Yeah, it’s here.”

Telling the guy I’d be right over, I had to look at JB and say (with some exasperation), “Is there anywhere else on the planet that you left anything?”

Anyway, that was it – a nerve-racking end to an otherwise splendid vacation. I have to say that I really enjoyed our visit to that wonderful nation and look forward to returning. The Japanese, without exception, proved to be compassionate and honest and friendly.

Of course, right now, a week later, I’m still suffering from jet lag. But its slowly getting better.

But if that’s the only price (and our credit scores remained intact), I’m more then interested in returning.

And to my readers, thanks for coming along with me through our memories.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 25 October 2018 18:34
 
Japan - Day Eight – Raked stones and backwards panels PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 22 October 2018 19:21

oday was our free day in Kyoto – our final full day. So we each picked something we wanted to do. JB went for the Ryoanji Temple with its internationally famous racked gardens.

So, while JB was getting ready, I hit the streets on an errand – I needed to pick up a little spending-yen, about $50 would carry us for the day, I figured. The thing was, on the ATM machine in the nearby 7-11, I got the number of zeroes mixed up and pulled $500 (i.e. 50,000 yen) by accident. No way I needed this amount of money. I figured we’d just have to convert it back somehow (the ATM machine wouldn’t handle that). So, smooth move, that. (Remember this – it will be an element in our final story from this set).

After collecting JB, we talked to the front desk and figured out how to get to Ryoanji – bus 12 would carry us right there, though the map wasn’t quite clear – it was more focused on bus routes than actual geography. So we were down the street, around the corner and just hitting stop D when bus 12 showed up. Hopped aboard and off we went. Thank goodness for Yagi-san – we knew how to get on and pay off the bus.

So we rolled along on a packed bus (and, mind you, it was 9am on a Sunday). Got to the point that looked close on the map and bailed off. Then we started to walk. And walk. And walk. Eventually we found a sign – Ryoanji: 790 M. Are you kidding me? That was just short of a half-mile. Not feeling like walking eight football fields, we crossed the road at the next stop. Bus 59, it turned out, actually went to Ryoanji – there was even a note on the route board that stated this fact; most reassuring. So we hopped on the next bus and payed about $2.30 to ride one stop. Well worth it.

Ryoanji Temple was a peaceful place, so much so that I cannot describe it. Raked gravel gardens and standing stones. A picture is worth a thousand words, so here you go:

Afterwards, the museum ticket ladies told us where the towards-town bus stop was. Again, route 59, but it didn’t take us near the hotel. As we boarded the bus, I looked over the map and realized if we stuck to that bus (rather than transferring to 12) we would slide past the north side of town, crossing the subway line the Manga Museum was on (my choice. Like, no shit, right?). Anyway, it was a smooth transition and we were down to the museum without any hassles.

A Manga example - Yowamushi Pedal!Okay, for those who don’t know, Manga is (essentially) Japanese comic books (or ‘graphic novels’, if it makes you feel better). They are massive in Japan and growing more popular worldwide. They have stories for every taste and age, from silly kiddy stories to erotic love stories. I’ve read a couple series and have always found them interesting. And, by the way, you read from right to left. Next time you are at your local Barnes and Noble, go into the scifi section and check them out – you’ll see shelves with complete series (20-30 issues, even more).

Anyway, the museum is located in a refurbished school. The entire front is AstroTurfed and tree-shaded, and on this lawn a hundred or more people were out reading manga from the museum shelves. We saw older ladies, kids (of course), whole families, even moms pointing to pictures for their toddlers. It was just scholastically impressive (and makes the pretentious loungers in Barnes and Noble look like pikers). Anyway, this place had many shelves of full releases.  I sat on one comfortable bench and flipped through the original Akira (Neo Tokyo is about to Explode!). Stunning. Even JB followed along as I told her the storyline. And we watched trailers for new anime flicks (based on original manga). Then we had lunch in the café outside – their gimmick is that every time a famous artist visits to speak, he leaves a doodle on the café wall. We saw works by the creator of Lupin and One Punch Man. Even (I think) Miyasaki (i.e. the Spirited Away guy, for you B&N pikers). After lunch and a yogurt swirl, I asked JB (since there was nothing else to do and it had just gone 3pm) if we could each get a translated manga off the English shelf and stretch out and read on the lawn. She agreed!

I picked a book titled Afterschool Charisma, where a boy goes into a high school full of historically-generated clones. And it’s like no high school you’ve ever seen, what with a moody Joan (of Arc), a sneering Freud, a haughty Mozart and a pleasant (yet spooky) Hitler. I read through the first book in about an hour. JB read something titled Honey and Clover which she enjoyed and would like to see an anime adaptation (if one exists). So we’ll see.

Anyway, now we are up in our room. I’ve just finished concluding these notes (28 full pages from a small binder book) We have confirmation of our airport shuttle at 1pm tomorrow. All there is to do is to pack. I think this concludes our trip I hope you enjoyed my account. I’ll only add more if something interesting happens.

Sayonara!

Fun Fact: I noticed this while at the Manga Museum – Japanese are easier with sitting on flat surfaces. We westerners, we need chairs. When JB and I spread out on the lawn with our magazines, it was a little hard on the body. Lay on my back? My arms get tired overhead. Lay on my stomach? My back hurts as I hold myself up. My side? No pillow. But the Japanese, they sat naturally for hours. Us? We looked like puppets with cut strings.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 25 October 2018 18:28
 
Japan - Day Seven.Point.Five – A relaxing stroll to dinner PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 21 October 2018 11:45

(This one ran long so I’m breaking the day up. Sorta like an afternoon nap)

hile JB slept off our post-Yagi-san day, I slipped down to the lobby for any information on how we could spend our final full day. While there were no pamphlets anywhere, I did find a nice guide book in the gift shop (which I cheaply flipped through). In its pages, I did find something about the “Kyoto International Manga Museum”. And, the hell! It looked like it was a block from our hotel!

When the wife rose from the dead, we decided we’d scope it out on the way to dinner. Of course we would. So we angled our way over to that district, left the main drag and started poking about the back-alleys of Kyoto.

Earlier shot, but provided for illustrationAn explanatory note – Kyoto back streets are one way single-lane alleys. They have iffy sidewalks (or painted suggestions). Between their irregular power poles and garbage cans, pedestrians and cyclists and speeding taxis (and dog-walkers and scooters) going every which way, and the fact that night was falling and they are poorly lit, well, it’s a challenge (and I’m from killer-car Orlando). Yes, imagine every form of transportation outside of submarines and jetliners vying for the alley-way and you’ve got an idea.

And there are JB and Robert, wandering like rubes up and down these sidestreets, unable to find this museum and within an ace of getting squashed.

Finally gave it up and popped into a manga bookstore on the main street we’d visited the day before. Found a salesgirl that spoke very broken English and asked if she knew about the museum. “Hai! Hai!” She tried to explain it but I couldn’t follow. Then, an idea. Whipped out our local street map and asked her to point it out.

“We here! And you want to go…” Her finger travelled up the map, a major block north of where I’d thought it was. “..you go…” And then finger pauses. Right on the spot on my map that says Kyoto International Manga Museum. She looked up in confusion. A joke? Or was I this stupid? There it was, right on my map. All I could do was nod. “Oh, there it is.”

So after embarrassing America in the international arena just a little more than it already has been, we decided we knew close enough where it was and would go to dinner instead. It was a short hop over to the Nishiki Food Market, a covered alley (bared to cars, thankfully) and loaded with all sorts of food shops. It was a groovy place, all narrow and Asian and perfect if you had a fedora hat and a five-o’clock shadow. Yes, lots of food but mostly small stuff, you know, stand-n-eats. Finally we found a beef shop that had upstairs seating and had a pair of beefy/bacony burgers and two bottles of coke, sitting at the window and watching the people pass by, some of them stopping to buy (literally) squid-on-a-stick across the way. No thanks.

Once we were done, we moved through closing shops (they were shutting up at 7pm on a Saturday night – I didn’t understand that), we figured to go one block south to Shinjo Dori street (the lit commercial area) and head home that way. Relying on my unerring sense of direction, we entered one of those hair-raising cross-streets and walked a short distance. And more distance. And even more distance. After five blocks, even I had to admit that we’d gotten ourselves lost in Kyoto. We stopped in a small coffee shop and asked directions (turns out we’d turned the wrong way out of the Nishiki Food Market and were heading north rather than south). Before leaving (and as a show of thanks for the navigational tip (and because we really wanted ice cream)) I bought a pair of coffee-flavored ice cream cones (that were much better to eat than to describe). From there, it was a quarter mile down the narrow street to the main drag, dodging bikes and taxis and ninjas.

JB and I did poke around a bookstore/anime/hobby shop for an hour. Saw original art for Fullmetal Alchemist on the wall and some Legend of the Galactic Heroes game miniatures. After that, we walked home through the massed strollers and almost got knee-capped by a yakuza in a purple pimp car. In the hotel, spoke with the front desk about figuring out the bus system (JB wants to see the Ryonji Temple tomorrow, and with her foot problems and my WTF-hernia, we’re looking at a very interesting day).

Can hardly wait.

Fun Fact: I’m told that Japanese have small locks on their front wheels of their bikes. Well, I didn’t see any but I’m not sure what I was looking for. I did see mothers scooping their children out of their baskets and going into shops, as did salarymen with briefcases, with no fumbling for keys. I saw standard bike locks on maybe one-in-ten bikes. As we would find out in this foreshadowing way, the Japanese are far more honest than westerners.

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 October 2018 21:31
 
Japan - Day Seven – A thousand gates and equal deities PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 20 October 2018 09:03

onks at the buffet; what?

Apparently there was a monks convention in Kyoto and a number of monks were in our hotel. Came down this morning and saw two (in full orange robes, heads smooth) spooning up the scrambled eggs. Funny thing; as we sat at breakfast, more entered. But they didn’t sit with the first set; two sat apart and one alone. You’d think there would be temple shop-talk and nirvana sightings but no. Seems that monks put their robes on one leg at a time, the same as everyone else.

So Yagi-san showed up bright and perky to show us the Kyoto sights. Apparently JB is going lame – ankle problems today – so I’ll have to shoot her. This did slow down the pace a bit.

Anyway, first up was Kinkakuji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. And that’s what it was; a gold-plated temple that shown like a fall leaf over the beautiful lake.

In contrast to heavenly desires, we moved on to earthy ones. A cross-town bus got us to Gion, the famous geisha district. While we didn’t see any Geishas, we did see more and more girls in traditional kimonos. Turns out that it is really popular to rent one for the day and parade around – that that I’m complaining – they were so cute. Some of the fellas let their girls talk them into traditional robes as well. Yes, it was interesting to be on a narrow street in that infamous district and see two kimonoed ladies shuffling your way – suddenly it was 1925 all over again.

 

Clip-clopping back in time

After this, lunch. Yagi-san took us to a nice socks-n-sit down traditional eatery. Very curious; you had to crawl through a low three-foot high opening to get to your table. We chatted about this and that but either I was too outgoing or she too shy – I felt like a Yankee trader newly ashore, damning everyone’s eyes.

So, the first of the thousand – Fushimi Inari Shrine with its thousand(s) of torii gates. In this, imagine a path leading under an orange gateway, the traditional type. Now think of them lined up, one every foot, a corridor of gates for miles. It was amazing. And too much for JB. I’m not sure if Yagi-san really wanted to do the whole course either but when we got to the weenie-bailout gate, JB had us peel off. Oh well; seen one torii gate, you seen them all.

Then a train and a bit of a hike to Sanjusagendo Temple, which is the largest wooden building in the world. And inside is a huge statue of Buddha surrounded by 1001 life-sized statues of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of Mercy. Since no pictures are allowed you are just going to have to imagine it – Buddha in the center and then rank after rank of gold-leafed goddesses, stretching into the distance.

The golden arches?One of the things they do at this temple is archery competitions. And they did relate the story of one boy in the 1400s who shot off 13,500 or so arrows at the rate of nine a minute, and he hit his target over 8000 times. Amazing!

Fun Fact – Toilets. Yes, they have them in Japan (as well as the squatting ones). But the toilets are space-age. In one place, I sat on one where the seat warmed up and it played nature sounds. You could also pick music and have it turn into a bidet (note that I didn’t touch any of the buttons, given this danger). On the bullet train, the toilet had a button to raise and lower its lid (I’m told that in high-end places, some of the toilets sense you and open automatically). Okay, so I might bitch about their trains vs. ours, but I think I’ll leave the crapper-envy out of this.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 October 2018 18:52
 
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