Tuesday, May 23, 2006

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

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