Tuesday, May 30, 2006

back from the future part II

tokyo: 6:55 p.m., tuesday may 30
utah: 3:55 a.m., tuesday may 30
jeff: somewhere between now and then

....well that was interesting...

when i was in jr high, there was a new pop test marketed in our area called 'ok soda'.
ok soda was more or less what you got when you mixed all the soft drinks at the
fountain, only now the work was done for you. it was all the rage and had a campaign that had a very generic 'brand x' style.
their slogan was, 'somehow, things manage
to turn out ok'.

they do.

get off the shink at tokyo station and the caravan moves briskly down several escalators to and happily find that we can go from the station direct to the airport [makes sense, really]. the train comes, and in a rush i ask if we can get on that one. they say and we do, only to realize why the man said we would have to stand if there were no seats: we were jumped on the 'reserved seating' car. this occurred to us just as the train was pulling out and all the people were looking at us as we awkwardly sat down on the floor next to the luggage compartment. when the man came for our tickets, he chewed me out for not bothering to learn how trains work in other countries and sent us one car down where there were open seats.
arriving earlier than we planned at the airport, we went up as many escalators as we descended in tokyo, albeit much more 'baggage friendly' here. we passed through at least three different security gates of various scrutiny-levels, including the northwest airlines version, where i asked to have my camera bag hand checked and was also selected for a random luggage search by a friendly guard who said that he was also a photo hobbyist.

when i met up with the fam, plans had changed: mom and dad and t had found another flight directly to minneapolis [thus avoiding the 13-hour layover in sfo]. the flight was boarding as this was spoke, and so we exchanged 'thanksforthetriptojapanitwasfuniloveyougoodbye's' and that was that.

so now my sister and i are sitting on a lovely plane which offers video on demand ['new world', but no 'syriana'] and are not too far from the aluetian islands at the moment. in some passport-showing line shortly after leaving mom and dad, we discussed the catch that neither of us are entirely sure what airline we are taking out of sfo.
but we know the time it leaves, and we've been in stickier situations before.

it's good to be with my sister again. she pointed out that we hardly saw each other while we were in japan. i hadn't noticed that, but she's right.
now that it's just us, the trip has an entirely different feel.

amongst other things, i am trying to see if i can work my finances to go with her to ghana next month and build houses.

why i love japan:

i love that the old lady working the souvenier store still talks to me in very polite and courteous language, and even my postcards are wrapped up and placed carefully in a paper bag which is then taped closed and handed to me with two hands.

i love that i can feel completely comfortable asking anybody i see for directions, and that if they do not know they way, they will often go find someone who can help me.

i love that the girl pushing the snack cart through the train bows politely when she leaves the room, and the that guy working the counter at starbucks bows deeply when he hands a customer their tray.

i love that there are no places i know of where i should be afraid to go.

i love that everything from warning signs to bus passes have cute cartoon animals on them.

Monday, May 29, 2006

back from the future

kyoto to tokyo shinkansen: 10:46 a.m., tuesday, may 30
utah: 7:46 p.m., monday, may 29

the bullet train [or 'shinkansen', as we say in the far east] is a wonderful contraption, resembling the child of the serpent from harry potter's 'chamber of secrets' and a rocket ship. speeding through the mountain landscape upon which the sun has risen and shines brightly, i wish we could take this all the way across the ocean. the ride is generally smooth [as i type, it's rocking more than i have ever felt, and that's not very much], and last night it got us from osaka to kyoto in under 15 minutes. that's pretty dang.

no matter how many times i do this, i am always amused by the phenomenon in which i leave the airport at 5:00 tuesday afternoon and arrive in san francisco at 9 a.m. that morning. the dark side to this amusement is that, for reasons i don't quite fully understand, adjusting to the time difference is much easier when going from east to west. coming back, it's something akin to a nightmare; i will be getting sleepy around 4 in the afternoon and bright eyed and bushy by 4 or 5 in the a.[m.] looks like i can get finally watch the first season of 'lost'.

yesterday we had the experience to see something quite rare. we were visiting 'sanjusangen-do', one of the ancient city's most famous temples [where temple recommends are sold for 600 yen] in which there are 1,001 buddhist statues [1,000 standing at about 5'; the other 1 is about 10' tall], walking down the incense filled hall and marveling at the grandeur of it. up ahead, in front of the main deity, was solemnly assembled a buddhist wedding ceremony. the couple sat up with the priest, he clothed in rarely-seen purple robes, the bride in pure white and the groom in a black and grey kimono. off to the side were two assisting monks in green, who carried sacred tea and candles, and below sat the parents, who must have had some great influence in arranging such a sacred ceremony [not to mention the two photographers and a videographer in a hall where photography is otherwise prohibited].
simply being there to see such an ordinance was fascinating, and to see the performance of some rites, coupled with the unnusual hand positions of some of the statues in the temple was enlightening.

the last day of our journey, it seems we were finally getting a rhythm down on how to travel with the five of us. hop out of the temple [after buying several charms from the temple gift shop--these charms have become the favorite for souveniers: they are small, affordable, and kind of cool], skip on to the bus, and jump onto the train to osaka.
standing on the platform, a train pulled in across from us, listing 'kakogawa' as its final destination, very cool because that was one of the areas in which i served as all those years ago [and a bit odd, because it's not a major stop in that area]. to make further awesomeness, that train pulled away and the one behind it was bound for 'shingu', another area in which i served and not that commonly seen in the kyoto station. little tender mercies like that are indeed awesome.

from train to subway, we make what was probably the last required stop in the trip, the 'hard rock cafe osaka'. so now i have my shirt.

another subway or two and we were at the osaka aquarium. costing a whopping 2000 yen to get in [~$20], this place was rad, boasting 7 floors of fishies, sharks, seals, and even monkeys! i like monkeys.
cool though the monkeys be, our favorites were the otters. maybe a subconscious leftover from when we would cheer for the fergus falls otters even when our high school played against them, watching these little river otters hobble around and play in the water made us giddy. but the sea otters stole the show. probably four or five feet long [depending on the tail], the were big enough to be enormously cute as the paddled along on their backs past the windows, chewing on something or just washing their ears.
you just want to put one in your suitcase and take him home.

other than the otters, the penguins could have entertained me all afternoon. like ducks, i admire penguins because they are not the most beautiful or graceful of the fowl, but they seem completely content to be the bird they are and do the best can.
they just be penguins.
they waddle around on legs that look to be little more than ankles and feet, so that even a gradual incline requires concentration and some risk, hold their arms out like a little kid when they run, and enter the water essentially by falling over. yet they all stand there, in the their tuxedos, with an enviable expression, seemingly thinking, 'dang. i'm a penguin. rad.'

yes, there were underwater creatures, too. the king of them all was the whale shark, who's name says it all [the largest fish in captivity] and around whom swam a school of little fishes, presumably using him for protection. also of weirdness-note was the sun-fish. probably nine inches wide and 5-6 feet tall, this guy has a fin on top and one on bottom, and that's how he gets around. with a mouth that looks perpetually open, he doesn't look like the brightest star in the sky, and i almost feel bad for saying he looks strange. i'm sure he's very smart and has a wonderful personality.

coming in as a dessert to the visual feast were the jellyfish. i think a jar of two or three jellyfish would make wonderful centerpieces at my wedding reception. simply a biological mystery on how they are even 'alive', they move through the water like blobulous dreams, transluciently phasing between this world and some unseen astral plane. so beautiful and tantalizing, yet when i see those poison wires trailing behind them, the dream is gone and the venom revealed. but from behind glass, they are my 'squishy.'

**it is now 12:30, about 40 minutes out from tokyo; on my right are fields of tea; on my left is mt. fuji, largely hidden in the hazey distance. dad is nervous that we will not make our flight. i'm curious myself, but i think it will happen; i've cut it close plenty of times before. not that i condone such behaviors; i wish we were comfortably ahead of schedule, as the trains going from nippori station to the airport run only every hour, i think. but i am not worried.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

kyoto and the brown mcdonald's signs

kyoto: sunday, may 28 11:28 p.m.
utah: sunday, may 28 8:28 a.m.

now this is something kind of weird: i still remember my missionary apartment phone number. not a clue on how to get to the church, but i know the phone number--only in japanese, mind you.
looking for directions on how to get to church, i called the number, wondering if they were even in the same apartment six years later.

yes, but they are now sister missionaries.
that's little weird to think about, but not a lot.

so we had our directions, and left in good time, except that the lady standing in line in front of me was taking her sweet, very long time, while other lines had moved through everyone else who was there when i got there, plus severel more newcomers.
i could remember how to get to the station by the church, so we had to stop and ask directions at the kyoto station.
my sunday morning sabbath patience was being tested a little.

eventually we got directions elsewhere, and our comfortable space of time was now into the 'just gonna make it' zone. again, a hop, skip, and hurried train change and we were back in my area; southern kyoto, where me and elder reid kamakamapohaiheahola kapapa were in charge of preaching the restored gospel to all those who live there.
walking in the general directions the nice sister gave me, the neighborhood was looking vaguely familiar, but i still wasn't too sure where to go.
then, as we came to an intersection, we saw two nice girls walking their bikes.

suddenly, i was grateful that old lady in front of me had spent so long ordering her bullet train tickets....

and so the sisters walked with us to church.
'walked us to church' is perhaps more correct.

it was very cool to be back there.
actually, it was a very special experience.
i think missionaries generally remember the people more than the people remember them, and i was curious if anyone would still know me, or would they look at me and say, 'you used to be missionary here, right?'
the bishopric sitting up front were new, but all faces i remembered. and they all lit up
when they saw me. i don't think i even said my name, yet when the first counsellor opened the meeting, he recongnized 'elder, now brother, gustafson' as visiting here with his family.
yoshi visited with us. i don't think she knows much about the Church, but both of the talks were very good for her to hear.

afterward, i talked with some of the members, and among other things explained that neither becky nor yoshi were my wife. one of the girls had gotten married in march to a nice guy from peru who has lived in japan for the last twelve years; that's really very cool, and also a bit of a relief, since she had quite the crush on me last time i was here, and i was a little nervous about seeing her again.

in the hall i introduce mom to sister hishii, who is indeed one of the sweetest and nicest ladies on any continent. she had me translate some embarassingly kind remarks to mom about me as a missionary. but i'm glad mom got to hear that.

we asked yoshi if she would be interested in the missionaries explaining a bit about the Church to her, which she accepted. the sisters did a great job [hooray for sisters!], and when i shared my thoughts about the gospel, i think that really helped yoshi understand that this is more than just a place to go on sunday mornings. she left with a book of mormon [now available in a much lighter soft cover version....]

at some point here, i do have to admit something that i discovered over the last few days:
i can't speak japanese.
i'm getting great at asking for and understanding directions, but since we've had yoshi with us and the opportunity for more advanced conversation has presented itself, i have taken a look at what i have wanted to say vs. what i have said, and, if i do achieve over 40% success, i still sound really weird.
not going to get me down, but i need to study more.
me talk pretty one day.

our kyoto sight for today was kinkaku-ji, the golden pavilion, the older and much more famous brother to the 'silver pavilion' that we saw on friday. yet, as i said, i like the silver one better [even though it's not really silver]. this one really is gold, and it's
pretty dang to see. you pay your fee, walk around the corner, and bam!, there it is. and so you and everyone else takes a ton of pictures. we managed to hold a up a rather long queue of visitors so that we could get a family shot. if they minded, they were silently minding.

unlike the silver pavilion, once you see the gold building in all its splendor, that's about it. so we hurried out and hopped on a long bus ride to try and make to the hall of 1,001 statues before 5:00.

going from northwest kyoto to the central southeast on a bus can take quite a while.
and when the temple closes their gates at 4:30, well, we just missed it. we stare at the big iron gate for a few minutes, hoping that we could stare it down, i suppose.

we couldn't.

waiting in line for the bus again, i struck up a conversation with a pack of jr. high kids. kids in japan seem to be in their school uniforms every day of the week, and always on field trips. i don't understand it.
the leader of this pack was the spokesman, but couldn't speak very much english. his buddies, however, could do alright, and so i would answer his questions or ask him my own and his friends would translate for him as needed. it was an exceptionally entertaining way to pass the time as we watched four or five buses come and go, too packed to fit any more people.

we gave up and decided to walk.
down the block we saw a curry place. we never really ate the same food twice here, which is a good thing.
and for becky, a good thing is curry.
and we had a great lunch from a very friendly curry staff.

being americans, we needed our after-meal sweets, preferably chocolate, and made a beeline for the circle k just down the block.
they didn't have any 'morinaga' chocolate bars, my favorite, but they did have some very classy looking chocolate bars, available in 72%, 86%, and even 99% chocolate. the 99%
chocolate was 30 yen more for 30 grams less, which i took to be a sign that this was the good stuff. and i love dark chocolate, further reasoning that this must be great.

to quote my sister, 'boys are dumb.'

the first few moments of the bite was pleasing. it tasted like chocolate. i like chocolate.
yet, like some horrible joke store gag, the pleasing taste quickly fleeted, leaving a nasty taste, not unlike weeds. that unpleasantness soon gave way to the most awful, bitter taste i can imagine, which grew more and more intense. i had no choice to but grab one of dad's bite-size klondike bars and dispel the hell-born taste.
at least i amused everyone else.

and yet, there is a strange human tendancy, to see someone in pain and, when they say 'try this,' to try it.
are dumb.

is it wrong to say i felt somewhat validated in watching all them wretch in equal agony?
certainly, i was punished for buying on the sabbath.

out of curiosity/stupidity, we also bought the 86% and 72%. the 86 is still too intense for pleasantness, but the 72 is pretty good.
i still prefer dove dark chocolates, for those of you keeping notes.

finishing our trek to the station, yoshi pointed out that all the mcdonald's signs in kyoto are on a brown background and not the usual red.
i think i had noticed that, but never gave too much thought to it. afterall, this is japan; their toilets are either have control panels or are a porcelain hole in the ground; every kfc has a statue of the colonel out front who looks like he may come alive and kill you at any moment; weird-colored mcdonald's signs don't stand out in the big picture.
she explained that kyoto is such a historical and refined town that the yellow on red looks too cheap and gaudy, not presenting the image that mcdonald's wants. so they changed it to brown, to be more subdued and refined, hoping to harmonize with the vibe of the citizens.
that's kind of cool.

yoshi's bus left from the kyoto station, but she left her bag at our hotel [the bus leaves at 10:30 p.m., she sleeps on it all night, and arrives in tokyo at 7 a.m., just in time for work on monday morning]. i took this as a chance to have little 'me and kyoto' time, and volunteered to go back and get it while they did whatever they did at the station.

it was nice to be by myself, to walk the streets and ride the subways of kyoto.
this is my city.

i have no proof or even much of a genuine claim to it, but until someone challenges that, i will relish in the romaniticism of it all.

we spent the evening on the open terrace, atop the 12th floor of the station. low-lit and very beautiful, you can sit and look out over the city in its peaceful night time luminescance.

when it was time, we walked down to the subway, where i translated as she expressed her love and gratitude to our family for all that we have done for her. she calls mom and dad 'mom' and 'dad', and she does feel like our sister.

after all these years
they remember 'gustafson'
heart fushimi ward

Saturday, May 27, 2006

reptiles and samurai

kyoto: saturday, may 27 10:02 p.m.
utah: saturday, may 27 7:05 a.m.

"we'll have an adventure
"and several long trips
"we'll make lots of friends
"and maybe get a bite to eat

as we went to bed last night, there was talk that yoshi was planning to come down to visit us today, and a quick e-mail from her said she would be there in the afternoon. at least, i think she said 'afternoon'. yet i awoke to a phonecall from her, saying that we was waiting at the temple were were going to see that day [this 'one stop a day' plan was really working overall].
so we scrambled as best we could, still having some questions about the kyoto bus system and had to stop and ask a nice policeman for directions; he asked me if i spoke english or french. i wonder if he could speak french.

kiyomizu temple is probably the most famous temple in kyoto, due to its grand nature and remarkable views of the nature and the city from it's balconies on the mountainside.
i avoided the busy tourist street on
the way up; if we walked there, it would take hours to get to the 'pure water temple'.
while i didn't see them, i heard that mom and becky got a picture with some maiko girls walking the streets; blast.... my fifth time here, and i still don't have a picture with those mysterious ladies.

we entered the temple by washing our hands and mouth at the font out front, then bought our recommend for 400 yen or so.
by now i was throwing all cares about the cost of film and developing into the wind, and shot all that i wanted to here, including several experiments with 'soft focus' and wholly out of focus images. i'm curious to see if there's anything interesting with that.

walking along, i noticed two girls about my age who were looking at me. i smiled back,
acknowledging that, yes, in a country where americans are rarely seen, i'm relatively
nice and interesting to look at. they pointed to their camera, although my quick hope of celebrity was flashed when they wanted me to take their picture. from their use of charades, i gathered they weren't from around here; they knew enough the name of 'korea' in japanese, and that seems to be about it. i tried to say i had spent a [crazy] day in seoul, but discovered that i don't know how they pronounce it.
at least they got their picture.

nearly all temples and shrines sell little 'charms'--if you have ridden in my car, you may have seen my little 'traffic protection charm' i bought last time i was here. it works wonders.
my dad bought my mom a 'happiness charm', which was returned with a happiness kiss. and mom bought all three of her children 'get married' charms. actually, i think yoshi got one, too. we all displayed our charms as we gathered round the rock which houses the god of love. so things should get interesting from here on out.
at the offering box to the god of profession progression, i tossed in a 5 yen coin, hoping
to get more work when i get back.

the draw of kiyomizu temple is its eponymous 'pure water' which parts into three waterfalls, under which you can stand in a line to take a cup-on-a-stick from either the old lady or energetic jr. high student in front of you and drink from the holy waters yourself. truly, these are blessed with health; i have done it every time and never gotten sick.

now that the culturing of the family had been accomplished for the day, we could take all the time we wanted down this street, looking at whatever junk we wanted.
and we did.

this has really been a good street for me in my japan journeys. as a missionary, i saw a wonderful door curtain that i regretted not buying and so came back and bought it when i was a study-abroading student. it hangs in my door as i type.
on this trip, i decided i wanted to get a 'yukata'--a summer kimono.
and so i found a nice store that looked decently-authentic for its location and price, tried one on, like it, and bought it.
and so mom found one, too.
and so did dad.
girls' yukatas are little more elaborate, and so the lady dressed becky in a kickin' purple one with a red wrap--she looked so good that we all commanded her to buy it.
and she did.
tim bought two-piece lounging thing, and has since declared to wear it everday.

yes, we are a cultured family.

i was afraid food would be a big expenditure on this trip.
not so.
for reasons i really don't feel like analyzing right now, restaurants in japan generally serve only one kind of food; ramen places serve ramen, sushi places serve sushi, takoyaki places serve takoyaki. and bowls of meat and rice places serve bowls of meat and rice. we ate at a bowl of meat and rice place.
the beauty is in the simplicity:
walk in
put your money in the ticket vending machine
push the button that has the picture of the food you want to eat
sit down at the counter
give the ticket to the guy
he gives you the bowl of rice and meat
you eat it
your family does the same
everyone is happy

really a rad country.
i am going to miss this rich eating establishment system.

enjoying his english bus map provided by an exceedingly helpful train booth worker [i ask where i can buy a bus pass; he comes out a few minutes later to see i got it alright to give us five english maps], dad has begun to figure out how to get around this town. he found us a route to the subway that including a walk through a 'shotengai', a sort of covered strip mall; good place to slices of japanese life. dad found a store selling all sorts of old movies on dvd for 500 yen a pieces, and excidedly bought 'the african queen'. watching it in the hotel room that night, he kept commenting on how many scenes he didn't remember being there before. i don't know if the fault lies in my aging father or the questionable asian dvd market.
i pointed out a 'shakey's pizza' joint where we ate as missionaries.
mom took my picture in front of it.

Friday, May 26, 2006

kyoto mon amour

kyoto: 11:57 p.m. friday may 26
utah: 8:57 a.m. friday may 26

today's activities would all depend on the weather:

sunny weather, we go to kiyomizu temple.

drizzles, we go to ginkaku-ji, the silver pavilion.

it was drizzles, the perfect environment to see the temple, because that heightens the
aesthetics around which it was designed. built on the thought of finding beauty in the simple and sad, the grey sky and quiet rain act as a sensual 'surround sound' to the artfully subdued grounds.

standing at a quiet two stories, ginkaku-ji's main villa is of dark brown wood and
white rice paper doors. in front spreads a pond of koi, silently swimming as trees stretch forth in classical asian fashion. a hall of worship provides a bookend to one corner of the area, and also provides a platform for moon viewing.
since the moon was
not available, i used it to photograph people enjoying their history's culture, including three tough looking biker guys, who, like most tough-looking japanese guys, were quite friendly and sincere, and four lovely ladies in kimonos, who impressed even the throngs of high school girls.
betwixt the temple hall and the villa is a finely raked rock
garden and shape that looks like the bottom third of a cone. as i write, i realize i really don't know what it's made of; it stands about 4' tall and looks like it's made from the gravel of the rock garden. its purpose is to cast shadows during moon viewing.

ginkaku-ji is perhaps my favorite sight in kyoto. avoiding any sort of sensationalism,
it's artistry and elegance come from patience. the longer you spend there, whether sitting by the temple hall or strolling through the gardens, the more delicate beauty you find. i could spend all day there.
kyoto is, in fact, much the same way.


new york.
there are major cities all over the world, each unique and alive, and all have people in love with the metropolis.
for me, that city is kyoto.

thriving in the modern age with a populace of 1.2 million people, history and old japan
is more intricately interwoven here than anywhere else in the country. to know kyoto's history is to know japan's history, with traces of the heian period [1100 a.d.] still very visible.

we wandered through the major downtown streets, where high-rise buildings stand over
traditional shops and paper lanterns lining the way. we turned down another unsuspecting avenue, where bamboo walls and wooden doors were all that was to be seen on the cobblestone streets.
twice, we saw a white-faced maiko gracefully scurrying from one establishment to another.
like a glimpse of a fox in the woods, she was a fleeting vestige of old kyoto. some of the doors we passed advertised their menus, traditional meals costing over $100 for small but delicate dishes. yet others presented nothing. they were tea houses or sushi restaurants in which clientel are by invitation only. this is gion, once the great entertainment center, where geisha entertained with such legendary skill that we make movies about them today.

to walk through downtown kyoto from twilight to the neon nightlife was one of my favorite events of our trip.
to just be in kyoto.

now, karaoke bars and pachinko parlors offer entertainment just as gion did centuries
before. there are no memoirs of the geisha here, just callers dressed deceptively formal outside of naught places.
i suppose i am on my own personal 'cruise' when i'm in kyoto.
i was loving just being there, and could have walked the streets all night.

the rest of the family, however, thought kyoto was nice, but was getting a little tired
of walking. for becky, travel to another country isn't that fun if she is not building a house or saving the world in some other way. plus, she was getting rather annoyed with a technologically advanced first-world nation who seemingly did not appreciate the research regarding the dangers of tobacco. that, and us getting lost in finding the subway wasn't helping either.

the takaragaike prince hotel of northern kyoto was not quite the same as the tokyo conrad. situated just outside of the bustling city, it is a rather popular spot for the business class, as the odd-looking kyoto international conference hall is right next door. the staff was friendly and spoke english well-enough that, when i didn't feel like speaking japanese, we could get along fine. and i'm sure that 20 years ago it was a beautiful place.
but it has since then fallen into disrepair. no bugs or anything horrendous like that [and you do not want to have a japanese centipede in your dwellings, let me tell you], but the carpets were discolored, the wallpaper was coming undone at the seams, and other such small things. still, these were some of the biggest rooms in all of kyoto. dad and tim were totally cool with it, but i felt a little bad for becky and mom.
in a cheerful hyperbole, becky compared it to the 'happiness hotel.'
the bellhops all looked cute in their uniforms.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

last stop: this town

kyoto: 12:59 a.m., friday, may 26
utah: 9:59 a.m., thursday, may 25

as i sit here in my yukata, typing away, my sister [also in her yukata] searches through her biology as she does an on-line quiz on my dad's computer, the only one that has internet access, and tim [again, yukata-ed] sits on his roll away bed and looks through the gifts he received today. two hours ago, i could hardly see how i could make it home awake. now, i'm feeling alright.

today was our day in hiroshima.before i go any further, i would like to kneel on the floor, bring my head to the ground, and, in the humblest japanese i know, confess to the shinto gods that i have stupidly tried to plan too much to do in one day, and pray that they may remove their curses from upon me as i remove activities from our schedule in an attempt to have time to actually enjoy what we are doing.
i have no priest to wave willow branches over me in purification, so i will have to trust that will be sufficient.

yes, today was our day to visit hiroshima. it started out great, with us leaving in time [well, 30 minutes past schedule, still in good time] and the family wandering into a nice little bakery while i was buying bullet train tickets. thus, our breakfast consisted of wonderful pastries, usually filled with cremes and other lovely things.

the ride to hiroshima was literally a trip down memory lane, albeit at 150 mph. going west of kyoto, we passed through areas that i served in, which i pointed out to the moderate interest of my parents. the bullet trains really are like a first class airplane, with seats that are wonderfully large and provide ample leg room, a soft chime when nearing each stop, and a uniformed girl who walks through whilst pushing a cart, offering drinks, candy, and toys in soft japanese.
my mom bought chocolate covered almonds from her. a chocolate-loving companion once pointed out that, despite having created infinite wonders in the realm of bread, the japanese have taken chocolate and either put it in bar form or dippedalmonds in it, thereby assuming that they have reached the culinary perfection ofthe chocolate sector. no peanut butter cups, no candy bars, just chocolate covered almonds.
off the soapbox, they were rather good chocolate covered almonds.

in between the passing of said box of chocolates, my sister studied microbiology, mom and i looked through a book of 'must see in kyoto' [i highly recommend it and its accompanying series, should you visit this land], tim was lost in his ipod, while dad enjoyed the quickly passing scenery, occasionally pulling out the video camera to record something he thought was neat. much to the frustration of my mother, my dad finds scenery to be the main strength of a camcorder.

reaching hiroshima was a reminder for me, the new single mother of four. to describe what happens, i will relate our experience coming back from the peace museum and heading to the next venture, an island:
when i think, 'we hopoff the streetcar and running to catch the next train, i imagine reaching the station and hopping on the waiting train [because i researched this last night], with a quick stop in the bathroom if need be, and perchance a flurry through the convenience store for a bottle of 'pocari sweat' [yes.] reality, however, was different: we get to the station and captain dynamo [a.k.a. 'jeff'] runs to find out where the train is to go to miyajima, while pointing the kids into a quick convenience store. for whatever reason, i generally don't think much about food or restrooms when i am traveling [indiana jones never did either, why should i? same with jack bauer], but i concede that my family does like to eat and that this short stop would be a good time to get food before we get on the train. everyone buys food they think they can enjoy [i get a rice cake wrapped in seaweed, a cheese flavoredcake with a design of the northern island in it, and a 'morinaga' chocolate bar, the best in japan], and we are off. except that mom reminds that dad says he wanted to stop at mcdonald's. ok, a hamburger doesn't take but a small moment. soon, however,they are all gathered around the counter, where the manager has presented an english menu [odd, since the names are pretty much the same: cheese burger = 'cheezu ba-ga-']and who seems to speak as much english as my sister does japanese. mom and sister run off to the restrooms while dad waits for the food and tim wanders around to proclaim his love of this country and potential future plans to move here some day. our food is presented in a bag the size of a grocery bag and dad hands it to me so that he, too, can run off to the restroom. when everyone is back, it is obvious that we have too much food to take on the train [japan has a thing about not walking and eating at the same time; i don't know the consensus regarding eating on the trains], and even if we could find room in the busy restraurant, smoking is allowed, and the food is already going to kill us fast enough. the small plaza in front of the station is agreed upon, and we sit down next to some flirting teenage kids and amidst pigeons who are thrilled that mom throws bits of her bun to them from time to time.
as i enjoy my mcchicken sandwich, surprisingly well-sized and tasty for being on the100 yen menu, i ponder why i am the way i am; why did i get so frustrated with the above situation? i wasn't angry, but i felt myself getting short with people, both inside and out.

that's kind of the way things went, and i think i will be a good mother when the time comes.

as for the sights and sites hiroshima, the atomic bomb dome is like no other place on the face of the round earth. the building was one of the few sites remaining after 'little boy's' blast only because the bomb went off directly above; tim can explain to you more about how that works. visiting, it is easy to wonder, should we take pictures? do we smile in such photos? like so many other questions of culture, it is best to watch what the natives do. when they are smiles for the shots, i think it's ok for us, too.

however, you are not here for long before a junior high student will come up to you and ask to interview your in thickly-accented english. for, you see, this is part of their homework, to find an english speaker and ask them some questions. this interrogation ranges from 'what is your special talent' [making chocolate chip cookies], to 'are you good at rock paper scissors' [i'm a pro] to 'what do you think of the war in iraq' [i never got asked that one]. and often they ask to take a picture with you at the end. this was really cool at first, but when each of us were on our fourth or fifth one and hadn't made it to the musuem yet, it was starting to get old [i began answering 'why did you come to hiroshima' with 'to do your homework']. the group of elementary school kids who just wanted me to sign their notebooks was fun, though. i felt like i was famous.

the peace museum itself is one you could spend hours at. reading history and documents of the time leading up to august 1945, seeing video of the actual blast, artifacts and remnants of the event, the man's shadow burned onto the sidewalk, and pictures taken at ground zero just hours after is intriguing. then to remember that this is not some history museum in minnesota about europe, but that you are HERE. that the spot you are now standing on is that empty wasteland on the post-blast model on the first floor. only one other city in the world can come close to such a claim. tim, with his study of nuclear physics and its power, found the museum very difficult emotinally and had to hurry through it.

that would have been a good day, but we had come this far, it would be a shame not to visit miyajima, one of the three most beautiful places in japan. so another ride in the streetcar, dinner at the station [see above], hop on a train and then 10 minutes on a ferry, and we see the big shinto torii gate in the water. really pretty cool and one of THE most picturesque images of the land of the rising sun. like nikko, this soon became a race against time, although becky had time to get some pictures with her byu bookstore bag and a very, very friendly deer, as well as the rest of us to get shots before the sun was all the way gone. and we saw a tanuki.

but we had a long ways to go to get home, and japan is not a country for late night public transportation [having the missionary rule of 'be home by 9:30', you never really think about these sort of things]. the bullet train ran only to osaka, which is about 30 minutes south of kyoto; nevermind us being tired and sleep most of the way to osaka, from there [now about 11 p.m.], we had to find a regular train to get us to kyoto station. tired and exhausted, we arrive in kyoto station and make our way down to the subway, only to find that we missed the last subway to our hotel by seven minutes... had we just made that other ferry off miyajima, could we have made it? as we consider the day's chain of events, mom suggests we blame the school kids at hiroshima. works for me.

taxis in japan are expensive, but after midnight, they are really your only hope. the driver would accept four people, but not five. dad and tim went ahead and managed to have a conversation with their driver while i conversed with our driver. i feel like my japanese is getting sloppy and i could proper it up [while becky understands a surprising amount], but this guy was chatty and we had a great time, despite me using horrible grammar and probably speaking more rudely than i ever intended at times.

now, it's late, i'm really, really, tired, and glad to sleep.

tanuki at ev'n
living fluffy 'mid the shrine
girls get excited

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

wife/mother OR it takes a special person to be a mom

kyoto: 8:56 p.m., wednesday, may 24
utah: 5:56 a.m., wednesday, may 24

can i share something with you? today became a little too much for me. all that is inside of me filled to the brim and spilled over a bit. sitting on the bullet trainspeeding toward kyoto, it occurred to me that i am feeling rather overwhelmed on thistrip, due in part to the fact that i, in many ways, am taking care of four toddlers. without me, they cannot read, speak, or do almost anything. i have to not only find a place to eat that all four of them can agree on, but teach them how to eat the food, how to buy a ticket and get on the train, how to behave in public. on top of this comes the responsibility of making sure that all of the hotel accomodations are inorder, a mid-sized responsibility in one's own tongue; further complicated by the unknown tongue, the weight increases. [checking in to our new hotel today, i was understanding most of what the kind receptionist was saying until the end, when she went off rather quickly and all i could do was pray that she did not end with 'ka', indicating that what she had said was a question. she didn't, making well all that ended well.]i thought i would be absolutely overjoyed to the point of tears at returning to mybeloved kyoto. instead, my insides are so wrapped over making sure that every is getting along, that they are all having the time of their lives and seeing all that they want to see and will want to see, and that all plans run accordingly. obviously, not a wise attitude to adopt, and i am working on getting out of it.

it's also like being the assistant director on a movie; everyone else seems to think everything just sort of happens while the a.d. is doing all that they can to put out fires and triple checking every bus connection, open date, and see that all information is translated correctly. and at the end of the day, when everyone else goes to rest,the a.d. is up planning the next day's activities. [it is worth noting, however, that the a.d. is also enjoying a very comfortable summer kimono, provided by the hotel, as he types this.]

this morning began at a lovely 6 a.m.-ish as me and becky and dad left to see the very famous and supposedly very cool tsukiji fish market. the family went to see it on monday morning, but we got there four hours after its prime, and it was lame. today we got there in great time, only to find it deserted, but for another confused couple of white people. asking a nice old man passing by, he said today there was no market. turns out, the thing takes off 'sundays, holidays, and some wednesdays.' well, next time i'm in tokyo...

riding the bullet train to kyoto would have been a rad little journey, were it not for the above unnecessary but nevertheless real stresses described above. that, and carrying our luggage around is rather cumbersome. looking at the listings in the subway, trying to find where i should go next, a nice old lady came up to me and offered me her day's subway pass. she couldn't tell mewhere to go for our hotel, but she said she was done using the day pass that she had purchased and offered it to me, and suggested that man over there would know wheremy hotel was. what a neat country. that pass ended up saving us about $10.
getting to the takaragaike prince hotel wasn't as much of a maze as the tokyo conrad [which, i come to find out, isn't on any maps or any books [or in anybody's knowledge of giving directions] because it's that dang new], but it's not the same. the conrad probably costs 3 times what this place does, but it kind of felt like they were our friends there. the prince hotel, located on the peaceful outskirts of northern kyoto amidst lovely trees, is the best hotel for the price and all that comes with it. this includes the diligent and seemingly all-female belhop staff, who happily transport all of ourbags to our rooms and rejected any assistance offered. kyoto isn't much for hotels,and the few good ones that is does have have been booked for months [and months]. rooms here are simple but nice, looking slightly old but entirely acceptable, reached by walkingdown a continually continually curving soft pink hallway [the hotel is a six-storydonut], causing the place look like a cross between a holiday inn [considered by me and my sisterto be the epitome of hotels in our younger years] and the provo temple.

the kyoto station is one of my favorite spots in japan, and here we ate dinner at a food court that was much different five years ago--where mccdonald's and the very rare subway sandwiches broke up japanese quick meal stands [and one really good korean place] is now a more refined section of strongly japanese establishments. we eventually agreedon a ramen
place: for better or for worse, nearly all stores have exact plastic replicas of their foods displayed outside, so that passers-by can look and see what all members of the family can agree on. what's cool is that once you know what you want, you insert your money in a sort of vending machine next to the plastic food case, make your choice, and give the ticket to the smiling girl welcoming people by the shop curtain. my sister pointed out that its nice to have your meal already payed for. she also noted that her ramen smelled and tasted like hay.she was right on both accounts and orded [and enjoyed] curry instead.

tomorrow we head for hiroshima. will we see everything? i'm getting out the book to start planning.

thousand year hist'ry
i'm part of 8 months of that
and it feels like home

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

the japan chronicles

despite what the stamped date says, as far as i'm concerned, it's 8:03 a.m. on wednesday the 24th.
internet is scarce here, making publishing a little difficult. and while i have been writing some on my own computer each day [which somehow made its way to the country with me, despite original plans to the contrary], the high standards for aesthetic perfection of the japanese culture have become a part of my own psyche, and i do not feel my writing be yet worthy. when the time is right, i will post each day individually.
i think i will spend today's time on the bullet train in agonizing editing.

to see real japan
six o'clock leave but to find
the fish market's closed

the amazing race

7:24 a.m. wed., tokyo time
4:24 p.m. tues., utah time

i have a wonderful habit of trying to cram into my schedule more than is comfortable.indicently, this overflows in my extrapersonal life, and those around me suffer. in this case, my family.

our day started out nice and pleasant, enjoying yet another continenttal breakfast on the top floor overlooking tokyo. i really can't get over how good this is; true, it is eggs, sausage, fruits, breads, meats and cheeses, but even the crackers are better than i ever imagined such commonplace foods could ever be. please bear in mind, i am raving about this not to induce any sort of envy in the reader, but rather out of absolute personal astonishment. i will most likely never again participate in such an opportunity once we leave today.

being that tokyo was fine for yesterday, we decided to go north to the lovely town of nikko. it was our first trip outside of the tokyo metropolis, providing a high speed view of the rural nativity. farm houses in traditional japanese style of ornate wood and tile stand in the midst of rice paddied fields. occassionally, we see an old man, bent over in the field, tending the young stalks in a foot of flooded water.
from the nikko station, we jumped onto a bus, after confirming that this was going where we wanted to go by asking some nice old ladies who were also sightseeing. they even noted to us when to get off.
stepping off the ten minute bus ride, it was my family's first time at a real japanese shrine--so often do i forget what it is like to never have seen such wonderful architecture. on the other hand, maybe it's not that big of a deal to someone who hasn't studied the history and such.
the shrine dates from the mid-1600s [which, when you think about it, outdates almost anything in the u.s.; here, that's bordering on 'recent'], build by the third shogun in memorial honor of his grandfather, tokugawa ieyasu, who successfully unified japan and made edo [later to be tokyo] the ruling center of japan. fascinating.
there's a lot to see there, but due a discrepancy between the book [saying the trip takes 2 hours] and reality [taking 3], our time here amounted to 45 minutes--really ashame.
the shrine is much, much more ornate than almost anything else in japan, drawing much more from chinese influence than the usually plainer japanese style. it was basically a 'run and gun' visit [if by 'gun' you mean 'camera']: skip all the moderately interesting stuff and take only the maximumly cool spots, getthe shot, then run to the next and repeat.
really not the way to see nikko, but it was all we could do.
because if we miss the bus back to the station [which runs every 30 minutes] then we miss the train back to tokyo [which runs every hour] which then mucks up all of our plans of the evening [which happens only once in a lifetime]. so i'm standing by the bus stop, wondering if this really is a bus stop back to the station just because it was the stop from the station; the nice lady from holland talking with my mom is hoping so, too, and the japanese tourists on my left are also visiting and really don't know any more than i do; sitting successfully on
the bus, i realize that when i asked the driver if it 'goes to the station', he may have thought i meant the major station, not the one we came from-- and again, everything is poised to fall apart; i decline to mention this new-found panic; if i'm wrong, no sense in worrying them; if i'm right, then it's too late already regardless; fortunately, i'm wrong [the happiness of incorrectness is a highly underexplored joy] and we make it to the station with but a minute or two to run onto the waiting train and race back to the eastern capitol.

sitting on the train, i realize that my family is not all like me, and that perhaps this indiana jones lifestyle of running and jumping from one spot to the next and catching ourselves on by the edge may not be the most fun. something to consider.

more subways in tokyo get us to once again meet yoshi and we head down the street to the kabuki theater in ginza: kabuki is one of japan's three traditional theaters and perhaps the most palatable to the westerner's appreciation. [conversely, 'noh' theater has such a
concentrated amount of esoteric weirdness that even most japanese can't stand it]. we puchased tickets for one act, which consisted of three 30-minute little stories. did i understand it? a little. did i like it? it got a little long during the third story [we're standing room only in the back of the fourth balcony] and 'stage blocking' is not something they consider important, and i'm glad we saw it. were we severely cultured? heck yes.

and then we run again from the theater to another part of tokyo to meet aki aoyagi, one of my old mission companions. aki is one of those guys of whom is it an honor to call 'friend'. a model of patience, kindness, and sunshine, just seeing him again was a thorough joy. we wandered off to shinjuku [entertainment district to 12 million people] to find a sushi place. now, why i am chosing where to go to eat in this town, i do not know, but shinjuku is not the place to find sushi very easily. nevertheless, we did, and had a blast, with all seven of us lined up by the bar as a little conveyor belt brings around all sorts of delicacies. now, i'm not talking about some little piece of fish like any other place i've been to in the u.s. or japan; these were sumo-sized cuts of the raw fish, nearly three times the size of the rice cake they covered. we ate our fill, where mom and becky triumphantly tried 'tako' [sometimes called 'octopus'] and to the happiness of my father, who spotted the bill, seven people ate their fillon sushi for less than $55.

tired though we were, when you're in shinjuku, you may as well have some fun, so we ran into a game center while my parents looked around outside. 'purikuras' are something that never really caught on in the states, but are [still] all the rage in this crazy country. kind of like the 'insta-photos' of 'amelie's world, smacked with japanese cuteness X 10, silly kids [like the author] climb into the booth and take several pictures of yourself doing whatever
cool-dumbness you like, choose the best ones, then put pink glittery borders around your favorites, add glitter stars and glitter hearts with the magic pen, wait to get them printed out, and cut them up to divide among the group: behold, stickers for you to give to your friends, all for 400 yen. i have some of me and aki from our days in the field inside my dictionary. being that shinjuku is a battleground in 'tekken', which i play with tim at Christmas time, he wanted to find the game in the arcade; while most of the other machines were open, all ten tekken 5 units were filled; we did get our chance against some dude who's face i never saw [here the machines are set low, so that you sit to play, and instead of being next to your opponent, here the two machines face each other], but he wasted me.
after saying goodbye to our japanese friends [who accompanied us all the way back to our station, despite aki having a young wife and kids to get home to and both having to work the next morning], we made our way back to the beautiful conrad hotel. i took becky and tim out to get some pictures of the 22nd century architecture around the neighborhood. after i had gotten all the shots i wanted and was comtemplating what to get next, a policeman came and told us photography was not allowed out there.

kabuki, sushi
racing, we take all we can
tomorrow kyoto

Monday, May 22, 2006

the family guy

tokyo: 8:27 a.m. tuesday, may 23
utah: 6:27 p.m. monday, may 22

and so begins the start of day 2 in japan. it's almost 8:30 in the a.m. here, while,in utah, the gang will soon be gathering to watch the season finale of '24'. will jack bauer save the world??

yesterday was a bit of a rough day for me. as tour guide and firstborn, i take it upon myself [consciously or otherwise] to see that everyone is having the time oftheir life and that we are seeing every cool thing that there is to see. naturally,that doesn't always happen, and therefore stresses me out a bit....

i really don't know much about tokyo, or what there is to do here. it's a really, really, really big city. and that's really cool, but apart from seeing the really big city, what do you do? there's probably a lot, actually.
we ventured out to see the famous tsukiji fish market, which begins at 4 a.m. and supplies tokyo with pretty much all of their fish. by 11, however, there isn't much to see. dad and i plan to head back there tomorrow morning around 5 and see it in full swing. at 1:30 we met up with a girl named yoshi, who homestayed in my room for a few months while i was knocking on doors over here all those years ago. this was actually a pretty good idea, as she knew where to go for shopping that was affordable: we met up with her in ginza, which is THE upscale shopping disctrict of tokyo, and trying to find anything there at a reasonable price was pointless.

the girls went off and shopped at uni-qlo [kind of like 'old navy' for japan] while i accompanied dad and tim in the sony building. the floors aren't that large, but they lead from one to another in a series of short steps, each taking you to more and more extravagent merchandise, much of which isn't even priced, as it is display only.

we considered sushi for dinner, but ultimately ended on yakiniku, which was a missionary favorite, and turned out to be an equally big success with my family. we went into a narrow stairway leading down beneath the street to a restaurant of brick walls, reminding my sister of a new york jazz club. there, we ordered two plates of piled raw meat and two plates of vegetables, all which we grilled ourselves on the two braziers placed in front of us. mom was a little cautious about touching the rawmeat with the same chopsticks we were eating from, but the apprehension didn't lastlong as she began to eat.
as we were sitting down to eat, mom began feeling not so well. thankfully, yoshi was still with us, and was able to spend time on the phone finding a clinic that would be open that evening [as a tribute to japanese mentality, i note that yoshi called our hotel to see if the doctor was still available; not the case, she then called her sister and had her off making phone calls while were we dining]. becky wanted to stop at the hard rock cafe which was literaly just arond the corner ['wanted' is a light description; when traveling abroad with my sister, if the country contains such a cafe, the establishment must be visited so that a t-shirt can be purchased; if not, dire consequences fall upon the brother], but we all went with mom to the hospital as yoshi ushered us into two seperate taxis. walking in, i asked tim what this reminded him of; he smiled and said, 'the old guy in the hospital!' between the hotel and now this, we are having a sort of 'lost intranslation' fantasy camp.

once mom was safely registered and with an hour wait, we decided to head back to rippongi and visit the mecca called the hard rock cafe, while yoshi stayed with mom[there wasn't much i could do; medical terminology is beyond me right now]. rippongi is the hangout place for those our age, but it looks to be mostly bars and fancy confectionary stores, neither of which really interested me very much. and after only two wrong turns [about which becky reminded me, 'brothers are usualy right'], we found the great cafe. i didn't buy a shirt, because there's one in osaka, and tokyo just seems so... common. 'video killed the radio star' played on the tv.

in a minute we will be leaving for breakfast in the lounge. never did i think thata 'continental breakfast' could so good. far above anything i even tasted as a missionary, this is some of japan's finest foood. there are cheeses i have never ever seen before [most of which stink, yet i like to eat them], delicately rolled slices of meat, and crackers that defy barriers of what i thought a cracker could be; eggs, sausage, ham and bacon, of which look and taste transcendant of the culinary genres. also is a wonderful chef who will prepare and serve omlets that are equal to the view out the window as we eat.

the ritz of tokyo
ginza has all that's glamour
$300 for shirt?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

found in translation

tokyo: monday, may 22
utah: sunday, may 21, 2:45 p.m.

it is about 15 minutes before 5 a.m., and dad and i are up and awake. our hotel is 36 floors above tokyo, and the view from our bay window is as awe-inspiring at it is serene.

how do i describe 'yesterday'? we left minneapolis on saturday morning and arrived in tokyo on sunday night,with an amorphous mass of time in the middle. such a flight is an experiment inmeta-physics itself: when we are up in the air, what time is it? where are we? those questions are irrelevant.
to pass the time, we were presented with 'cheaper by the dozen 2' and 'the chroniclesof narnia.' i was somewhat disappointed when i saw what other flights got: bangkok to tokyo got 'capote'; l.a. to tokyo got 'the new world'; and nagoya to manila got 'syriana', THE movie i wanted to see last year. granted, i stated that 'narnia' was the best movie i saw of 2005, but only becausei hadn't the opportunity to see those listed above. nevertheless, it is a great movie and one i thoroughly enjoyed the second time around. especially the beavers. i think they look and act absolutely fantastic.

with three hours to go on the flight [it's the same travel time whether flying from l.a. or from minneapolis, thanks to a round earth], i wandered back to visit my parents and sister; becky and i have a policy--she by determined choice, me largely by nature--of not using airplane bathrooms. i don't remember it ever being that much of an issue on previous trans-pacific flights, but, standing up, i was reminded of the effects of gravity on pressure. my beloved sister strongly encouraged me to hold to my principles, and remindedthat if i lose, she wins.

in a cultural effort to be more in tune with the land of the rising sun, i started reading japanese novel called 'i am a cat', one of the greatest works ofthe modern nation [thus replacing jane austen and 'the da vinci code' as my literary company on this journey]. a commentary on human nature through the eyes of a cat,the first fifty pages of the book were fascinating. sadly, the next hundred havebecome dull. i am currently a quarter way through the book and hoping to finish itbefore returning to the occident.

traveling with my full family is a different experience than when it's just me andbecky, and getting from the airport to the tokyo conrad hotel, which appeared on no neighborhood maps and was unknown to anyone, proved more difficult than i thought.
yet walking in the door, tired, dirty, and carrying plenty of luggage, the kind and regal welcoming of the dignified attendant brought with it a fresh flowing of gratitude akin to the arrival at the hard rock cafe in bangkok last year [i never did write down the account of our last days there, which were, in my opinion, the best part of the trip].

never have i been in such a beautiful hotel. further, i do not think i will be in such accomodations many more times for the remainder of my mortal life.

the man in the lobby took all of our bags and had us escorted to the main check-in on the 28th floor. this floor contains an exquisite lounge of dark and gold decor, overlooking tokyo bay and the rainbow bridge; while it is not the park hyatt hotel [reportedly the best place in japan], one could just as easily sit down here to run in cirlces from life's problems. the advantage is that the girl singing in front of the quiet piano is passing over any tacky simon and garfunkel cover versions.
but once i tell them my name, we do not check-in here. we are again escorted up another 9 floors on elevators so smooth and quiet that only the changing pressure on your ears alerts you to movement. we are taken to the executive lounge. as my dad and i sit and work out the room arrangements, mom and becky sit in the designer furniture and are offered drinks. tim maintains his world inside his ipod.
longtime readers may recall that finding hotels for this trip was somewhat of a massive struggle. the vast majority of this trip is provided for by years of my father's hard work and endless traveling, during the course of which he amassed hundreds of thousands of frequent points in hotels and airplanes. and that got us two good rooms in a hotel like the tokyo conrad; yet last night i was informed that we were upgraded to executive class, the cause of which i do not know and do not care.

the room is delicate, refined beauty. a small marble table presented us with a welcome card with our name written on it and two glass plates of fruit and confectionaries whose aesthetic value outweighs their taste. the bathroom looks strikingly like a room from the final scene of '2001' and supplies us with the latest in japanese toilet technology.
outside, high rise skyscrapers of all architectural feats grow above a living city. the forest of iron and cement, everchanging, covers the world below. thousands of shops and establishments of every kind line the streets in neon colors, while businesses and residents occupy the space in the stories above. at first glance it may look likea complete mess, yet every one knows their place and duty, producing a mosaic far more intriguing than any planned design could hope to be. near and far, the behemoths of the cityscape blink red lights around their silhouettes, offering a dreamlike safety to the scene.

mom and becky went straight to bed [around 8:30], which the three of us went out to look around.
one of the things i really need to keep in mind is that this is my dad's first trip outside the borders of the united states. what is common to me is utterly fascinating to a man who has paid for every other member of his family to see nearly all the continents of the world. we ate at a little chain called 'yoshinoya', where we got a good bowl of food for under $5. you really can't beat that anywhere, especially in downtown tokyo. best of all, they serve sukiyaki with a raw egg. that makes all the difference.

and so i sit, by the window, as soft grey light pours in, overlooking a city that spans as far as i can see in every direction. a few office workers are already in their cubicles adjacent from me, but largely the streets are quiet. a few stops down the train line, the giant fish market is in full swing, where giant tuna aresold for thousands of dollars to vendors from all over the country. but largely, the city that is at the center of the greatest population concentration in the world, is still asleep. it is the blessing of a jet lagged minnesotan to sit above it all and to watch the enigma that is japan.

like 5 years future
sprawling neon and concrete
view alone worth it

Saturday, May 20, 2006

the morning of

i had to run out an buy milk for my cereal this morning, which was ok, because it gave me chance to drive around town.

mom has prepared very detailed instructions on how to water every plant and flower inside and out of the house, and went over all the steps involved in feeding the cats with our next door neighbor this morning. she's reminding me of mrs. beaver from the lion, the witch, and the wardrobe, and i think that's pretty cool.

all in all, things are running smoothly.

comprehending days like this is always an interesting experiment in time: when i think about 'tonight', that is actually 20-some hours from now, and will be in the eastern hemisphere.

i wish i had remembered to bring some lens cleaner for my camera.

Friday, May 19, 2006

wonderful night

the house is asleep while i am up in the basement, typing away here and there.

i have spent the day doing things that i did not plan on doing, namely massaging my computer. i have mentioned my faithful and dying computer before, and rather than simply wiping it clean and rebuilding it, my dad saw an excuse to buy me windows xp. now it's like having a new computer [which is good, because i may be depleting my macbook pro fund, depending on what happens in the next few months]; it works smoothly, looks cool, and can gloriously run itunes. that means that i can sync my little ipod shuffle to my own computer.
it also means that i spent much of the day working on getting that all to work, and then a long and messy story involving a downloaded song; much of this could have been avoided had i brough the necessary connections to talk with the internet.
but i didn't.

however, i did send my sister [still in utah] over to sneak into my house and find all necessary internetable connectables, as it looks like we may have access in japan.

the weather is great here [looks to be raining in kyoto all next week], i'm mostly packed [did some laundry, as my homsar shirt was smelling unidentifyably funny yesterday], and my goal before bed is to make sure i can get us from point A [the narita airport] to point B [the tokyo conrad hotel].

rhubarb is the quintessential minnesota summertime food. you are welcome to stop by and enjoy a rhubarb bar anytime you like.
and i think max looks like simba.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

and all the children are above average

i like coming home.
it's often surprising how normal it feels to be back here. i would think that if i visit only once every six months or less, there would be a certain degree of detachment or foreignness, but there really isn't. walking through the hall or jumping down the stairs, it all feels as familiar and as right as it did ten years ago.

i lived at home until i left on my mission for japan. then, for two years i was not home at all. it was during that time that i really began to open my eyes and my understanding to the broad world and the variety of people upon it. accompanying such an awakening to the differences of this life brought with it an appreciation for who i am and where i come from, both geographically and philosophically. the awareness of the beauty of others naturally produces an appreciation for the beauty of self.

since that time, i have rarely spent any extended time back at home. with the exception of one summer spent here, all my visits have been relegated to a few weeks at Christmas or a week or two for some other event. home has therefore become dual in nature, both that of the familiar, wherein resides the love and the memories of so much that i am, and also that of a vacation, a break from my regular life. despite the connections of cell phones and internet, when i am back in minnesota, there is a disconnection from my current affairs in utah. my family of college age kids is replaced by my original family of mom and dad, brother, and cats. interestingly, my sister and i don't seem to be out here together a whole lot, yet we are together in utah; worlds do not mix much, it seems.

i take advantage of the new environment, appreciating the appreciative mother, who once again has her firstborn to take care of [incidentally, my being home tends to attract my younger brother, and so he is more frequently seen at the house as well, bringing further joy to our dear mother], and i, as child, appreciate moreso now than i ever did before the bottomless love and care from my mother and all that she does.

i look at the town out of two eyes, seeing it as the familiar landscape i have always known, and also from a distant and objective view; no longer do i take for granted the railroad tracks along 20th, the 'whale of a wash' car wash, or the water tower that stands quiet amid the night as spotlights diligently display the proud name 'moorhead' painted on either side.
the character of the town tastes strong now that i have spent years in utah; i have traveled across the ocean, but asia is expected to be exotic, and not the united states. but when i have seen the rocky mountain west, i more fully appreciate the values and culture of the northern midwest. while utah is a land of good mormon people, experience reminds me again and again that minnesotans are some of the kindest and friendliest people in the country.

as appreciative as i am of being here, i myself am apprecaited. my father seems to look for any excuse to run off to best buy and purchase whatever i may need, understandably and admirably, albeit unknowingly, relishing in his role as provider. similarly, my mother has more than cats to take care of now, and is ready at any time to take me wherever i may want to go, prepare whatever may sound appetizing, and the lamp by my bed is always on at night when i go in.

it is good to be home. my personal schedule is not as i would like it; i tend to sleep in, my scripture study suffers in intensity and duration, and i return perhaps too long to my old 8-bit nintendo with a nostalgic smile as the cats brush against my leg, but this is my home.

last night my mom and i looked through the scrapbook she made of my life a few years ago. this book alone is a family heirloom like few others, and as we reached high school graduation, i happily acknowledged, it's been a good ride.

my dad is working to reformat my beloved laptop to make it work again [and in doing so found his excuse to run to best buy as they were closing the doors], mom has been offering me bratwursts, rhubarb bars, and see's chocolates, puzzled why i turn them down but take an orange, tim severely bests me in 'super mario brothers 3', and max, our usually very-long haired orange cat, looks rather comical in his short summer haircut.

that's the news from moorhead, mn.