Well I have been here in Japan almost a week and am a little worn out already. Its a tad claustrophobic for my taste although there is much to see and experience and if you know me, you know I love that.
Today being my first day off from work, my interpreter from YRC, Harold san, offered to take me to Kamakura which is an ancient city fairly close to Yokohama where I am staying. Harold san is from a group of men that promote Japan as a public service. With a little advance notice, or in my case working with him everyday, he will show you whatever sights you would like to see, all for the low low cost of buying him lunch. Actually that is not a prerequisite, its just the very least he deserved from me for giving up his day to shlep my hiney to the sights. By the way that is Harold san below.
Kamakura is about a 20 minute train ride from Yokohama where my hotel is, that is unless you take the #9 train as instructed but were not told that you would have to change trains in Totsuka. Fairly important info I would say. When my train started going in reverse in Totsuka I knew I had problem. Next stop, get off and find the right train and get to Kamakura where I would meet Harold san. By the way, that wasn’t my only train snafu of the day…
I met Harold san and he took me to several temples and to see a giant Buddha. Harold san was great tour guide because he knew the history of the city in great detail. Kamakura is built within a ring of mountains and was a very easy place for the ruler back then to protect from invaders. The first place we went was to the Samurai Temple which is where the first Samurai were trained. As we were walking into the temple area, a group of girls saw me and ran over and spoke to Harold san. They asked him to ask me if I would be willing to participate in a project for school, which they would film. He asked me and of course I said yes. When it doubt, choose the option that makes the best story. Basically they had two stuffed animals, a Snoopy and a Picachu. They asked in unison “Which do you like better, Snoopy dog or Picachu”. Then I was to place a dot on a board on the side of the charactor I liked best. I chose Picachu much to their delight. Here is the series of pics that Harold san took of the event. Don’t ask me what that face is in the last one. I look like I am doing my impresenation of the church lady.
After that Harold san took me to the hand and mouth rinsing station. Everyone entering the temple is supposed to rinse out their mouth and wash their hands. Of course there are no towels and it was about 40 degrees today, but when in Rome. Harold san offered to get photos of the hand washing. I opted out of the mouth washing as it was a communal hand washing and mouth rinsing station. I do have my limits.
We saw a couple temples that were very impressive. Harold san and I had lunch at the 2nd temple. I told him to choose where he would like to eat. He chose bowls of soup with noodles which as you might imagine is the standard fare here for the locals. It was slurpity good. After lunch we got on anther small train that literally snaked its way through peoples back yards to get where it was going. We got off and walked to a giant bronze Buddha. I think it was probably 40 feet high or so, now normally a 40 foot cast statue wouldn’t be that big of a deal unless you consider that it was built like 1300 years ago when people were just learning about casting. They built the mold by filling in dirt around it and then continually raising the dirt until it was made. Quite the amazing feat. I was thinking that it would look great in my yard next to the house.
It was quite impressive. You can even go inside of it, which I did.
From there we went to an island called Enoshima. One thing that was interesting was how many hawks there were, hawks were everywhere along with signs that said beware of them. Beware of hawks? Really? I mean how bad could they really be?
Yeah yeah, blah blah blah beware of scary hawks. I saw one fly down at one of the temples we visited and it snatched some food off a table. I figured that is what they were worried about. Little did I know.
So we were walking through the shopping/eating area of the island and I stopped at a stand selling some sort of deep fried ball. I asked Harold san what they were and he said they were like a ball of bread with little fish in the middle and asked me if I wanted to try them. Sure I am game for anything. They were actually quite good. The inside was gooey like cheesy fishy gooey but in a good way. Almost like deep fried cheese.
Anyway I get some and am eating them on the bridge of hawk death when I drip some cheesy fishy goo on my shirt. Damn. So I am cleaning it off when I am hit by a dive bombing kamikaze hawk trying to get his talons into my fish balls. The hawk tried to take it right out of my hand. Luckily I have cat like reflexes when it comes to protecting my balls, (fish balls that is), I held tight to my balls and the hawk flew away empty taloned. Of course I had a serious gash on my hand from the ordeal. Ok not so much a gash as a barely imperceptible scratch and tiny hole. If you look close you can almost see blood.
I am not sure what it is with animals trying to take food from us gaunt Americans. Ed can relate can’t you ed? Anyway Harold san and I got great laughs from the whole thing as did all the people around me on the bridge.
Anyway the day ended with me missing my Yokohama stop on the train because I was sound asleep and waking up in unknown territory somewhere in Tokyo. I asked some kid where I was. To the Japanese kid I am sure it sounded like, “blah blah blah, yokohama, blah blah I am a fat stupid American, blah blah” all the while I am pointing at a map. He tells me in Japanese that I am in fact an idiot and am on the wrong train. Or at least I think that I was he said. Anyway I got the point and got off at the next stop and right back on another train going the other direction.
All in all a good first day of exploring.
So here are some observations about Japan in general. There is not one garbage can in this entire country. Or so it seems. Seriously, today I saw a total of none. I asked Harold san why and he said you are supposed to take your trash back to your own house. The city is not paying to haul away your trash. Oddly enough the place is incredibly clean. Much cleaner that the ole U.S. of a trash can on every corner A. and way cleaner than you would imagine a country with no trash cans. When I got back to my room tonight I had pockets full of trash. Along with no trash cans are no paper towels in the bathroom. When you wash your hands you dry them on your pants, period, no exceptions. I have yet to enter a bathroom anywhere with paper towels OR a hand dryer. Oh speaking of bathrooms. Today I was at a temple, the big Buddha temple, and I had to wizz. So I find the bathroom and walk to the urinal and do my thing. I didnt think much about it when I came in but the entrance to the bathroom was like 10 feet wide and had no joggle. As I am peeing I look left and there are hordes of people standing right there doing their sightseeing thing. They can litterally look right in and see me peeing. I have to wash my hands to get into the temple but I guess once you are in, people can watch you pee.
Secondly, the Japanese are both the most considerate and well mannered, and the most pushy people I have ever seen. Get in front of them while trying to get on a train and they will push you to get around you. But in every other way they go out of their way to apologize for doing anything bad to you. They bring polite to a whole new level. If you aren’t competing for a train seat.
When on trains you will see kids immediately get up to offer their seat to an elderly person. I have seen it every time I have gotten on a train. Kids appear to be very respectful to elders.
The toilets here are awesome. Heated, butt cleaning, warm air drying, pieces of Japanese awesomeness. Why in the world has the U.S. not gotten these yet? We claim to be nuts about cleanliness but these things take it to a whole new level. I must have one of these. You can see the controls on the one from my hotel room which oddly enough, has less controls than every other one I have seen.
The food as you can imagine is really different. The Japanese like their food in weird shapes and in odd colors. Most of it doesn’t even look like food. They also like to display the food in every restaurant with amazingly realistic plastic models of the dishes they offer. That is handy for me, as it make choosing food easy when I can’t read the menu.”yes mam I would like the shiny fluorescent pink soup with seaweed please”.
Today I saw the oddest snack treat I have ever seen in my life. Here is the deal. You have these presses that are somewhat like waffle irons without the waffle holes. They are flat. The girl takes octopus out of a bowl and lays them out side by side on the press. Then she closes the press and starts to crank this handle which applies a great amount of pressure to the press. Then steams bellows out everywhere. When she opens it, there is a wafer thin octopus snack cracker thing. All that is in it is octopus and corn starch to hold the thing together. I really wanted to try one but the line was about a hundred feet long. Too long for a curiosity taste. Here is a picture of the woman building the cracker, its not that great but you can kind of see her piling octopus on the press and you can also see some cracker remnants on the paper.
Lastly, no matter how well I think I speak a word of Japanese, they have no idea what I just said. Every time I say something in Japanese they look at me as if I am from mars. I thought about it. When I am trying to understand an asian in the U.S. I have the same problem. Sure they are speaking our language but it doesn’t sound the same. Its a weird thing to get used to and I think its worse with Asian languages because they sound completely different from romanic languages. I say Totsuka and they hear “tshieshkciencjskse”. Oh well I am in their country and therefore am here for their entertainment.
Tomorrow, I am headed for downtown Tokyo. No guide, no help, only my cat like, ball protecting reflexes to help me find my way.
PS. If you want to see the rest of my pics. Go here: http://flickr.com/photos/cleland/sets/72157612896949470/