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Food, Glorious Food!

As my time in Japan draws to a close, I’ve been taking some time to reflect on the experiences I’ve had, the friends I’ve made, and all the little things about Japan I grew to love as my time here passed.  But mostly I thought about food.  While I love Japanese food and will dearly miss by daily onigiri and miso, the list of foods that I intend to start gorging myself on the moment I step off the plane in Baltimore keeps growing and growing.  So I decided to jot down a list so my Mema and Papa can start grocery shopping in preparation for my arrival.

 

Pancho Villa’s Fried Chicken Chimichongas (with extra cheese sauce):  Mexican food is a little hard to track down in Japan.  I hear that there is a restaurant about a 40 minute walk from my house, but I have reservations about eating at a restaurant called “El Moustache” when I already find hair in my food on a semi-regular basis.

 

Bacon: for the love of all that is holy; STOCK UP ON BACON!  It doesn’t exist in Japan!  The Japanese tell you it does; but they’re lying!  They have ham that is labeled ‘bacon’, but it isn’t.  It’s just ham.  So you think to yourself , “hey, maybe when they were dissecting pigs some lingo got mixed up and they call ham ‘bacon’ and call bacon ‘ham’”, so then you buy ‘ham’, but it’s not bacon either – it’s the same stupid cut of meat only they call it ‘ham’ instead of ‘bacon’!  Ordering a BLT in Japan is one of the most disappointing culinary experiences you can ever have; trust me on this one.

 

Blue Raspberry Slurpee from 7-11:  The have 7-11 here; in fact, they’re on nearly every street.  What they don’t have is Slurpee machines.  They have ATMs and fresh made sushi – but no Slurpees.  It feels like the soul of 7-11 is missing. 

 

Cinnamon Rolls:  Bakeries are everywhere, and they all have very good baked goods.  The only trouble with their cinnamon rolls is that they don’t have frosting on them.  I personally think that it’s the cream cheese icing that defines it as a cinnamon roll, so I refer to the frosting-less variety as “spice bread swirl”.  

 

Fuddrucker’s Half Pound Burger with Fries:  I really just want a burger, but Fudd’s has the best, so why request anything else?  Besides, the one in my college town closed down, to Fredericksburg is the only place I know of where I can get my fix

 

Prime Rib:  I’m really just starting to miss eating chunks of beef as big as my head.  

 

Cheese:  The cheese here sucks.  There is no other way to describe the deplorable cheese situation here.  The most common cheese I see is *shiver* American Cheese slices, which I really don’t consider to be cheese at all.  I just want to get my hands on a giant chunk of Jarlsberg Swiss and just start taking bites out of that sucker.

 

Mema’s Chicken Salad with Reduced Fat Triscuits:  It’s delicious; plain and simple.

 

Peanut Butter: They charge $6.50 for about ¾ cup of Peanut Butter!  And it’s not even that good!  I call shenanigans on you, Japanese Peanut Butter!  Shenanigans!

 

Strawberries (preferably of the Westmorland Berry Farm variety), cantaloupe, and cherries: They’re just….so expensive here.  Most fruit here is; except for apples, but I’ve never been a huge fan of those.  I’m seriously in an extreme state of fruit deprivation.  One time I bought a strawberry cake because buying a cake with strawberries was about $15 cheaper than just buying the strawberries!

 

Maru-Chan Pork Ramen:  I know what you’re thinking; “you’re in Japan and you want to eat ramen when you get home?”, but you don’t understand.  I seriously don’t like the ramen here.  I’ve tried it fresh and found it to be seriously lacking in the taste department.  I’ve also tried the instant bowls, cups, and even bags that look similar to ours.  

 

The thing it that they all come with roughly 10 flavor packets to add (some are bases, oils, spices, dehydrated veggies, tofu, toothpaste, or whatever other variety of stuff they can put in a flavor packet), and if you just use one it’s just like having noodles in water – no taste.  Somewhere inbetween packets 7 and 8 you end up adding something you don’t like (for me it’s usually this oil that smells and tastes like burnt peanuts) and then there is no going back.  I just want my simple pork Maru-chan.  It’s taste is unparalleled and it’s simplicity is appreciated (one bowl I was making had 9 steps illustrated on the lid – 9! That is far too many steps between me and eating “instant” soup)

 

Ben & Jerry’s: Give me Chubby Hubby, Phish Food, Americone Dreams, or Chunky Monkey, please.  I guess eating ice cream at home never caught on here, because the only cartons of ice cream I’ve seen here have been vanilla flavored and cost $13.  And personally, if I’m going to pay a crazy amount for ice cream, I want it to have a catchy name. 

 

Microwave Popcorn:  I found a *single* bag in a store *once*. 

 

Papa’s Black Bean Soup:  I miss spicy things, and Papa’s soup is one of my all time favorite dinners.  I’ll even make some garlic bread to go with it!

 

ANYTHING WITH GARLIC:  $4 a bulb.   No kidding.  I’ve been trying to figure out why our kitchen even has a garlic press with prices like that. 

 

Mema’s Beans and Tortillas:  It’s been a while. 

 

Mema’s Enchiladas and Pineapple (because they always seem to go hand in hand in our house…): you know what?  Screw the description.  Let’s just have Mexican Night.  You can cook and I’ll siesta.  Deal?

 

Papa’s Ribs and Kraut: Despite their love of pickled things, the Japanese never embraced the sauerkraut.

 

Portabella Mushroom Sandwiches: Tons of mushrooms (expensive), peppers (expensive), and cheese (non-existant); it’s pretty much the accumulation of everything I’ve been craving but could never afford.  Le sigh.

 

Double Stuff Oreos:  There is no way I’m paying $7 for 12 Oreos because they’re individually wrapped.  No way!  I’ll somehow figure out a way to grow my own stupid Oreos before that happens.

 

Any Sandwich from Macado’s:  If I’m going to eat every sandwich on that menu before I graduate, I’ll need to kick it up a notch!  I missed out on an entire semester of sandwiches! 

 

IBC Cream Soda: Possibly the best soda on earth, aside from Squirt, but we all know the likelihood of tracking some of that down before I get home.  Maybe when I get home we should go on a Squirt Safari across state borders.  

 

Pulpy Orange Juice:  As far as OJ is concerned, I’m a huge fan of the Tropicana Grove Stand stuff, but so long as it reads “Lots of Pulp” I’m a pretty happy camper.

 

Pizza Hut Mushroom Pan Pizza:  I never realized how much I loved it until it was gone.  Now it’s like a part of me is missing; a hot, doughy, greasy part of me, but a part of me none the less.

 

Pretzels and Hershey’s kisses:  I shall combine them together to create chocolate pretzels!  Muh-ha-ha!  

 

Custard Style Vanilla Yogurt from Yoplait:  The Japanese never really got past the part of yogurt making where they mix together dairy and bacteria.  It’s all so sour that it makes me nauseous.  I miss yogurt that I can actually eat without risk of vomiting it back up instantaneously.

 

Jelly Belly’s Very Cherry and Pomegranate Jelly Beans: My all time favorite flavors of congealed bean-shaped treats.  I brought a bag with me but I got to the bottom of it in about three days.  I tried to ration them – but they’re too delicious not to eat!

 

Mary’s Cakery and Candy Kitchen’s Praline Fudge:  I ate a ton of this before I left, anticipating my craving for it while I was away.  Recently, my need to feast upon fudge has awakened again. 

 

I’m sure that there are other things I’m craving, but I feel that this will give everyone a decent heads up on what I will be demanding when I return home.   I may update this list as things come to me.

     

TV: Schmee Vee

Chances are that if we’ve spoken at all during my time here then you’ve heard me complain about Japanese TV.  For those who haven’t, this will all be new to you, then.  

 

I just want to preface this entry by saying that I really don’t like Japanese TV.  In fact, depending on the day and how tired I am of watching game shows, I even hate it.  So this entry is nothing but 100% biased against Japanese television programs. 

 

The top programming genres are as follow:  Game shows, cooking shows with celebrity panels, diet product paid programming, and karaoke shows.  That isn’t all there is on TV, but if you manage to find anything else it’s probably because you’ve cashed in your entire life’s worth of karma just so you can watch a bizarrely subtitled version of “Frankenstein” (they don’t subtitle any of the dialogue, just the occasional sign or book title).

 

And you would think that having cable would remedy this problem, right?  Wrong.  The Japanese TV will pretty much only receive 10 channels at once, and they will change throughout the day.  In the morning we might get channel 6, but at night time when we press ‘6’ on the remote it takes us to channel 35, which we also don’t get.  People will go out and buy really expensive HD Widescreen TVs just to watch a static-laced broadcast of the Hanshin Tiger’s baseball game.  

 

After about 9 weeks of watching people get doused with water for missing a note on karaoke and seeing some celebrity who I really don’t care about proclaim a dish was ‘So delicious!’ for the 1,000,000th time, I was pretty sure that Japanese TV couldn’t get any more confusing for me.  How wrong I was.

 

The Japanese love America.  They love American fashion, American TV, American Celebrities – everything.  They also love American music and love using it every chance they get, including as background music on TV shows.  But sometimes the music just doesn’t match up with the images being shown on the screen.  The (very serious) news program I watch some mornings starts it’s program by playing “Wake My Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham!. 

 

The worst misuse of American music happened on this program I was watching the other day, though.  This guy was at an archery range, and given that he had never used a bow before, was doing quite badly.  The all of a sudden “Mr. Bojangles” starts playing softly in the background.  A little strange, but okay.  Sure.  After the archery range the host of the show goes to hang out a fish market.  The camera pans over these giant frozen tuna and then “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel starts to play.

 

Me: *looking at fish* 
TV: "I'm gonna' try for an uptown girl; Shes been living in her white bread world-"
Me: WHAT? Are they really playing "Uptown Girl" while showing giant piles of frozen, headless fish?  Oh, and guts.
Erin: Looks like. 
TV: "As long as anyone with hot blood can; and now shes looking for a downtown man-" 
Me: I...don't even know what to say to this.  

I still haven't figured out what to say to that.

Complete Works of Tokyo(abridged)

 

           Okay, here’s the deal.  I’ve been neglecting updating my blog for a couple of reasons.  No, that’s a lie.  One reason:  I really don’t want to write about Tokyo.  Don’t get me wrong, my spring break in Tokyo was amazing; but that’s the problem.  I did so many things (and ate soooo much good food) that the idea of writing about it all is so daunting and terrible enough that I opt to do homework instead of updating.  Yeah, it’s that bad. 

 

           So, in order to get back up to date with the happenings of life here, I’ve decided to only write about some of the highlights of my Tokyo trip to save you all the trouble of reading a minute-by-minute account as well as save my sanity by not writing it.  So, here we go:

 

On the Imperial Palace:

            This is officially the first place that we went in Tokyo.  I say ‘officially’ because my group had gone to the fish market first to see some first class-trading deals, but much as I had suspected it was closed and we were wandering around an old abandoned warehouse dock that smelled like old fish and motor oil.  And of course, since we had to wake up at six in the morning to make the excursion, we had to wander around aimlessly wasting time until things opened around nine.

           

           So, we manage to find our way into the Imperial Gardens.  Only one of them is opened to the public this time of year, and we were unable to see the actual palace from it.  Drat.  We were expecting nicely manicured grass and plants with green trees that exuded a peaceful feel.  I mean, it’s the royal family’s garden; it should be one of the nicest landscapes in Japan, right?  Wrong. 

 

            The entire grounds could be described in one word: dead.  The grass was dead, the plants were dead, even the flower and vegetable gardens were dead.  It was actually quite a depressing place to visit.  We entertained ourselves by visiting the old historical buildings, but it was hard to mask our disappointment about the gardens being so…depressing. 

 

We managed to find one sakura (cherry blossom) tree in bloom and all the visitors to the gardens swarmed it like it was the last Tickly Me Elmo at Toys ‘R Us on Christmas Eve.  Everyone gathered around and took dozens of this solitary tree on the outskirts of the garden.  It was pretty funny that everyone got so excited over seeing a pink tree, but it was the only patch of color in the entire garden, so I can’t really blame anyone for their enthusiasm.     

 

 

On Harajuku

            By the end of the week Erin and I had visited Harajuku twice.  It was definitely one of our favorite places to browse around.  It has so many different clothing and shoe shops that it was impossible to see it all in one day (two wasn’t enough either, but we were only in Tokyo for five days, so sacrifices had to made).

 

            Our first time in Harajuku, the fashion capitol of Japan, was marred by…extreme irritation.  On the insistence of the other two girls in our group, we were forced to stay together, despite the fact that every inch of the street we were walking on was jam-packed full of people shuffling (because no one had the foot space to actually walk normally) down the lane.  Erin kept insisting that it would be much easier to navigate the streets in groups of two (AKA: Erin and I going off by ourselves) but they would just get really upset by that idea and reiterate that we needed to stay together.  I never did figure out why they were so intent on staying together, but I’m just going to chock it up to they were worried about us separating and getting picked off by some media-forgotten Harajuku serial killer.  

 

            As the day grew hotter so did people’s tempers.  One member of the group was upset at another because they thought that our temporary leader was taking us to the wrong place to see the famous Harajuku cosplayers (people dressed up in costumes).  We let the upset member take the reigns for a while and she led us down and around random streets in the prefecture.  Erin and I were eyeing a kimono shop hungrily, since purchasing the traditional wear was one of our goals for Tokyo.  Having had enough of being blindly dragged around Tokyo, Erin said that she was going into the shop and took off.  Seeing this as a chance of escaping the group and tasting sweet freedom once again, I followed her.  The other group members weren’t too far behind.

 

            We were a little disappointed that they decided to follow us, but they grew bored in the kimono store quickly and left to do other things.  Erin and I were thrilled by this and had a great time wandering around by ourselves the rest of the day, happy that our quartet had been reduced to a duet (our quintet member took off quite early in the day, leaving us floundering in the waters of Harajuku with our other members clinging to us like their lives depended on it.  Thanks for that, buddy).

   

 

On Kimono

            I know that the last section makes me seem kind of mean, at least when I was talking about my other group members.  I don’t mean to sound so short about it, but I was really irritated with them that day.  One of the worst parts happened in the kimono shop when Erin and I were looking around.  We were trying on furisode (long sleeved kimono for unmarried women) and yukata (light summer kimono), and the entire time the other two members of the group were circling in the background making unnecessary comments, mostly about the cost of the kimonos. 

 

We asked one of the girls if they were going to try any on (it’s Japan!  Where else are you going to wear or buy a kimono?  Canada?).  She just gave us disbelieving look and said “No, I’m not going to waste my money buying this stuff.”  All the kimonos in this store were antiques – old, well cared for and treasured garments.  They are literally a slice of Japanese history and buying one would most definitely not be a waste of money.    

 

            I tried on this one red furisode and it was *gorgeous*.  The color went perfectly with my skin tone, the pattern wasn’t too outrageous, and the entire thing was just balanced perfectly.  I had it on and Erin and I were ‘ooh’ing and ‘ahh’ing over the robe, and one member looks at the price tag and scoffs “You aren’t going to buy it are you?  It’s way to expensive,” while the other girl nodded her consent.  They were seriously bringing down our good time with their negativity.  They left shortly after and we were glad that they took their bad attitudes with them.  We later found out that they went to Ginza (the most expensive and upscale shopping district in Tokyo) and were thinking about buying $300 handbags after harping us about spending less on kimonos.  Right. 

 

            I ended up buying a lovely purple kimono and gold obi (sash)  from the coming of age set (Japanese girls and boys “come of age” when they turn 20.  It’s a pretty big deal for them and their friends.  They all dress up in traditional garb and go to temples to pray and then they all go out drinking).  For $200 I got my kimono, my under robe, robe ties, pads, obi, obi stiffener, tabi (socks), zori (shoes), and an instructional book about how to put it on.  It was an amazing deal and I was lucky to have found it.

 

            Later that night, I was relaying the story about the kimono shop to Mema, and she said that she wished that I would have bought the red one.  She said I should return the set and buy the other one the next day.  Who was I to argue?  Erin and I returned to the store the next day, and after a quick bout of pricing individual items we decided that I would spend more money buying all the accessories individually than I did buying the set, which included another kimono and obi.  I bought the red furisode and a long, ceremonial gold obi with a special obi scarf and rope. 

 

This time Erin purchased one from the coming of age set as well.  Like mine, hers was purple with a gold obi.  We were marveling that even though the two of us have completely different coloring (I have tan skin and dark features and Erin is a pale little red head) we both look good in similar kimonos.   

 

            I’m thrilled by my kimono and am looking forward to studying the art of wearing kimono when I get back home.  Right now I have them both wrapped up neatly in their original fold and wrapping that the store put them in; neat and ready to travel.    

 

 

On Tokyo Disney

            During my high school years I traveled down to Florida with Mema and Papa and got to experience the magic of Disney World for myself.  I had a great time and made a lot of good memories (and some bad, if we’re talking about learning the “Goofy Two-Step”), but I was shocked to learn that Erin had never been.  I was determined to rectify this and we set aside a day for me to lead Erin around Tokyo Disneyland.  We had just had our Harajuku disaster the day before and were hesitant to mention our Disney trip to the others, lest they wish to join us and once again bring us down with their tendency to whine and ruin our fun.  Thankfully, they all had their own plans for the day, so Erin and I were free to roam the Magic Kingdom to our heart’s content.

 

            Because of our shared love of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, we made that ride our first stop.  Of course, we mistakenly got into the line for Churros at first, but that was an understandable error to make because the lines were similar in length.  I guess the Japanese really love their Churros.  In Florida, I had gone on the ride before its renovation, so I was shocked at how much the ride had changed.  They had an animatronic Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa firing cannons at a port town, demanding that they “Give up Jack Sparrow” or he’d “burn the city to the ground”.  And, of course, they managed to sneak in numerous Jack Sparrows to appease the audience. 

 

It was quite easy to see the difference in quality between the old pirate robots and the new ones they added in because of the movies, but they managed to blend them into one ride nicely.  I’m glad that they didn’t redo the entire ride and ruin its classic appeal like they did to my precious Tiki Room.  To this day I’m upset that they put in comic relief birds from Disney movies and am quite excited that they turning it into a Lilo and Stitch attraction.  At least that way I won’t have to listen to an animatronic Eiago anymore.  Gilbert Gottfried’s voice makes me die a little everytime I hear it.         

 

            We also went on Star Tours (because I love that ride and forced Erin to go with me), the Teacups, It’s a Small World (because I had neglected to the last time I was in the park), the Haunted Mansion, Dumbo, and Big Thunder Mountain.  

 

            There were many different snack carts at the park where you could get a decently priced snack filling and sugary enough to satisfy your child until an actual meal time rolled around.  Our favorite carts were the popcorn carts.  Tokyo Disney sold three types of popcorn: butter, chocolate, and curry.  You could tell how popular each flavor was by how long the line to acquire it was.  The buttered popcorn cart was always empty.  Always.  The entire day I didn’t see a single person purchase a single kernel of regular popcorn.  The curry popcorn was a different story entirely.  The line for curry popcorn would wrap around corners and start so far away that you had to squint to see the end of the line.  

 

Erin and I, being the curious and adventurous eaters that we are, decided that we had to try the curry popcorn.  After over half an hour of waiting, we had our prize in hand, and let me tell you that it was delicious.  Seriously, the best popcorn I ever had.  As soon as I got to a computer with internet service I was looking up directions and recipes for replicating the treat at my house.  I told my boyfriend this and he was less than thrilled by the prospect that he would have to eat curry flavored popcorn.  I kind of hope he hates it so I can eat it all myself.

 

Erin wanted to go on Dumbo, and I couldn’t blame her.  Who wouldn’t want to go on a flying elephant when given the chance?  I warned her about Dumbo’s infamous line wait time, but we had the time to kill so we decided to give it a shot.  It took us about 45 minutes to get through this tiny line, but it was a pretty fun ride.  I kept joking that we wouldn’t fit into the cars because the two of us combined equaled roughly the size of four normal Japanese people.  We laughed even harder when our elephant was the first to land due to our combined weight.  

 

The ride itself was fun, but I think we had more fun waiting in line for Dumbo than we did actually riding it.  There was this little boy in line behind me with his mother that provided me with some excellent entertainment.  The boy was around two or three, and during one of the rare periods in which the line actually moved, he accidentally ran into the back of my legs.  I turned around to make sure he was okay, and when he realized how tall I was he got this stunned look on his face and staggered behind his mom.  I was used to this reaction and wasn’t too phased by it.  

 

About ten minutes later I felt another impact on the back of my legs, more forceful this time, so I turn around again to see what was the matter.  This little kid was giving me the deepest death glare I’d ever seen on a little kid’s face – he was seriously trying to take me down!  I think he was trying to protect his mother from this monstrously tall creature in front of him in line.  After this happened I moved my purse so that the bag hung in front of me.  Erin asked why and I told her that “My purse is at the right height to hit this kid in the face.  He already hit me, so if I hit back then it’s on.  And in five to six weeks in the Tokyo Dome we have to do battle.”  To this day it remains a reoccurring joke between the two of us. 

 

Time passed in the Dumbo line slowly.  We occasionally got to move and I pointedly ignored the tiny punches that were delivered to the back to my calves.  We happened to catch a glimpse of a passing mini-parade and decided to watch with the rest of our line brethren.  The parade had Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty.  All of these characters were given passing notice and the occasional camera flash by the Japanese in the park.  Then Alice, from the Wonderland fame, walks by.  Little, unassuming Alice wouldn’t even be given a second glance if the main princess were met with such little fanfare, right?  Wrong. 

 

As soon as they spot Alice, every Japanese girl under the age of thirty start freaking out.  They start screaming at the top of their lungs and calling out “Arisu!  Arisu!” and telling her how cute she was while cameras were flashing at such an astounding pace that I’m sure anyone with epilepsy would lapse into a seizure just thinking about it.  For the life of us, we couldn’t figure out why everyone was going crazy over Alice.  Then the answer came to us: because she is a Lolita.  The Japanese have a love of young, innocent characters, and Alice is dressed up in almost a perfect personification of the Lolita fashion movement in Japan.  I’m glad that Alice is popular somewhere in the world, because she certainly isn’t that popular in the states.

 

            Big Thunder Mountain was the last ride that Erin and I went on at Disney that day.  Erin was a little bit worried about it being a rollercoaster, but once I told her that my Mema went on it and loved it, she decided to give it a go.  The fast pass machines were long turned off, so we were in for two hours of conventional waiting to get on the ride.  This wouldn’t have been so bad if people weren’t cutting in line in front of us the entire time.  They weren’t just doing it on their own, either.  The park employees were escorting them to where their friends were in the line!  In America it would be “You want to be with your friends in line, huh?  Well, they can join you here at the back.”  It was one of those crazy cultural differences you just never quite grasp and that never really gets explained to you.

 

At one point in the line Erin looks around the room and asks me to use my crazy height to see if I can spot any other foreigners in the room.  I look around and, sure enough, in a room with over 200 people, we are the only non Japanese there.  We had been seeing other foreigners periodically throughout the day (mostly we kept seeing the same three or four numerous times) but this was the first time we were all alone.  It was a pretty cool experience.  We rode Big Thunder Mountain (which Erin ended up loving) and exited the ride just in time to grab a nice spot to watch the Electrical Parade.  At this point it was late and we were cold, but it was late enough and we were cold enough that waiting around another hour wouldn’t make that much of a difference. 

 

            I never saw the Electrical Parade before, and I’m really disappointed I hadn’t.  I always forget just how magical lights can be until you see them at their best.  After the parade Erin grabbed onto my purse strap and I used my Gaijin Smash (a super power given to any foreigner who visits Japan) to get through the crowds at unprecedented speeds.  We happened to make our way past the Pirate of the Caribbean ride again, only this time there wasn’t an hour and a half wait to get in.  In fact, there was no line at all.  We decided to end the day the way we started and wove through the labyrinth of metal hand rails and got placed onto the ride immediately (we actually got the entire boat to ourselves this time). 

 

            We were worried about having to suffer through the wait that buying tickets and waiting for the train would cause, but right as we were lamenting such, fireworks exploded over the park and the hundreds of people leaving the park with us all froze and began snapping pictures of the sky on their cell phones.  Not ones to pass up such a golden opportunity, we took off full sprint towards the train station and bought our tickets (no wait this time) and were close to first in line for the trains departing from the park. 

 

            By the time we got back to the hostel we were tired, our feet were sore (we had been on our feet for 13 hours straight at this point), and we were starving; but Tokyo Disney remains as being one of the best times I had not only in Tokyo, but in Japan.  I think it’s because I got to spend the entire day having fun with my best friend without having to worry about homework or finances and just got to concentrate on goofing around and laughing for the sake of laughing.       

 

On Akihabara

            Me and my friend Steven (who I refer to by the name he had in Japanese class: Goro) both applied for different study in Japan programs at the same time.  We would often joke about meeting in Tokyo and having coffee, so when we both got accepted to our programs and I popped up in Tokyo for my spring break, it was only natural that we meet up and make good on our promise of coffee in Tokyo.

 

            Goro got a little lost on his way there, so Erin and I treated ourselves to some authentic Japanese pizza to pass the time.  I got potato and mayonnaise and Erin bought tuna, mushroom and mayonnaise.  We split them half and half; and they were both delicious.  Japanese mayonnaise is sweeter and lighter that American mayo; and I put it on nearly everything I eat here.  I’m going to miss it when I go home.

 

            We decided to meet up in Akihabara, the electronics district, because Erin and I had yet to go and he said that he wanted to visit again.  We poked around in shops, played Pachinko (which Erin was surprisingly good at), played some crane games at the arcade (I won cute plush kitty keychains for everyone), and other such things, but the highlight of our day was eating at the maid café.  Maid cafes are an interesting sliver of Japanese culture.  It employs adorable Japanese girls and women and has them dress up in cute maid outfits and serve coffee and snacks.  The girls will refer to you as ‘master’ and are required to sit down and chat with you (despite all of our clumsy Japanese, we managed to have a decent conversation with our waitress, who was happy she didn’t have to talk in English). 

 

Different waitresses would stop by and teach us cute hand motions and songs to ensure that we remained genki (happy and energetic) while waiting for our food.  After it was all over with, we received point cards that the waitress personalized herself.  Mine reads: Master Mary, Level 1: My Master.  Since you’re not allowed to take pictures in the cafes, we stopped by the gift shop and bought trinkets to prove to people that we actually went to one.      

 

We ended our day with Starbucks coffee (it was the only coffee place still open) and a ride on the ferris wheel called “The Big O” (named such because it doesn’t have any of the center spokes of the traditional ferris wheel and looks like a giant ‘O’).  It actually had a rollercoaster track running through the middle of it, but that was closed due to the late hour and the rain.  Regardless, we enjoyed our ferris wheel ride and prepared for our departure back to Osaka the next day.   

 

On Shinkansen

            It’s fast.  REAL fast. 

 

Even the abridged version of Tokyo took 7 pages.  I hope that indicated just how long this thing could have been and justifies my reluctance to sit down and write out an unabridged version.  

The Saga Begins

Considering that my spring break was going on three weeks in the past, I figured it was about time to stop procrastinating and actually write about some of the things I did there. I’m going to break it up into manageable segments (probably by day) so I don’t go crazy writing it all in one sitting and you all won’t go cross-eyed from reading a gigantic block of text.  

 

There was a little bit of drama from the other girl we were going to go to Tokyo with before Spring Break actually started.  I’ll keep it short by saying that she thought that our hostel cost too much and she wanted to invite other people to split the cost.  So we did, albeit reluctantly.  She invited a friend of hers and Erin and I talked one of our guy friends into going with us the day before we left.  As it turns out, the girl who originally complained about the price only stayed in Tokyo for a grand total of two and a half days so she could return to Osaka to attend an Economics summit as a stand in for one of her professors.

 

That’s right – she left Tokyo on her spring break to sit in a room and listen to economics lectures when she knows little to nothing about economics.  We tried to figure this out, but it just hurt our brains too much.  

 

After her departure we were left with our last minute roomies who, with the absence of a fifth person, declared the room too expensive and vacated the room the next day.  But I’ll talk more about that later. 

 

Erin, our guy friend, and myself took the Shinkansen to Tokyo and were very lucky to catch a seat on the Nozomi line.  It’s the fastest of the three bullet trains because it makes the fewest stops and we got to Tokyo in a little over two hours.  Can you say crazy efficient?  I knew you could.  We blindly exited the station and got our first glimpse of Tokyo.  We had no idea where we were, and despite Erin’s insistence that if we started wandering we’d eventually find our hostel, I pulled the group into a koban (police box) to ask for directions; which they gave to us, using three progressively smaller and detailed maps to show us where we needed to go.  We were all glad we didn’t choose to walk around blindly at that point.  And despite our group’s combined inability to navigate, we managed to locate our hostel with little difficulty. 

 

There was a minor scare during check in though when the desk manager asked for my passport.  I went a little pale because as soon as I was able I took it out of my purse to lower the risk of it getting lost and stolen.  I told him I didn’t have my passport and asked if my alien registration card would work instead.  He said that my alien card was even better and that he was happy I was staying in Japan long enough to require a registration card.  Whew.

 

We dropped off our bags and went out to get dinner.  By accident/fate we ran into the other members of our group who had arrived the night before since they opted to skip their Friday classes.  The rest of us, realizing that our midterms started right after we got back, went to class and tried to suck every last bit of knowledge we could out of class, because goodness knows we wouldn’t be studying in Tokyo.  

 

The rest of day one was spent eating Chinese food (Erin and I got this huge smorgasbord of food that could have easily fed a couple other people with us, but we were hungry and unwilling to share) and talking about our plans for the next day.  Since Sunday would be one of our member’s last day (since she needed to go be economical or something), she wanted to go to the fish market.  I didn’t think it was open on Sundays because of the old saying “never eat Sushi on a Monday,” meaning that all the fish was day-old, but it was added to the ‘to do list’ along with visiting the imperial palace and Harajuku.  We messed around the city for a little bit before wandering back and going to bed while anxiously anticipating our first full day of exploring in Tokyo.  

Bang, Bang...

As an American going abroad I knew that I would encounter certain stereotypes while I was in Japan.  I was expecting people to comment about how obese the American population is, and they did.  I was counting on them asking if Brittany Spears and Paris Hilton were typical American girls, and they did.  What I wasn’t counting on was pure admiration that I had survived so long in America without getting shot.

Yeah.

My first meeting with my Japanese speaking partner, Saki, was…awkward at first.  We exchanged our names and started to ask questions about each other’s lives.  We eventually got on the topic of travel and where we had been.  Or so I thought.  I thought Saki had asked me “How many gone?,” in regards to places I had visited.  So I start talking about all the different places I had been before I realize that she wasn’t asking me about my travel experience.  She was asking about “How many gun” I owned. 

Suddenly, all of the Japanese people at my table had their eyes on me, like I was about to reveal some great secret as to why, for the love of all that is holy, boy bands are still so outrageously popular in Japan.  I told them I didn’t own any and had actually never even seen a real gun before, and while they nodded their heads in understanding, they didn’t seem convinced that I was telling the truth and sort of looked like they expected me to whip out a semi-automatic and start shooting Russian terrorists ala Bruce Willis.   

And while this incident was a little odd, I sort of wrote it off as a freak thing that just popped up into our conversation one day.  But it turned out that it wasn’t an isolated incident – it keeps happening on a very regular basis. 

Erin’s speaking partner, Ken, is going to a college in Indiana this coming fall.  He’s scared of coming to the US because he’ll be in such a close proximity to Chicago (for those who don’t know, Chicago to Japan is what Hell is to America.  If you want instant street cred here, don’t tell people you’re in a gang; just tell them you live comfortably in the suburbs of Chicago.  You will rule the Japanese night life as a God).  And because he is going to be so close to Chicago, he is convinced that he’s going to get shot at every other weekend.  At least once a week he puts his head down into his arms and moans “Ohhh….I’m going to get shot.  I don't want to get shot!”  It’s really unnerving.    

From what I’ve gathered from talking with various Japanese students, a few things have become apparent:

1)       Americans are given guns at birth.  So if they tell you that they don’t have one, they’re lying (probably because they intend to shoot you) 

2)       The only reason women carry purses is to carry larger guns.

3)       Not only do all Americans own guns, all of them own lots of guns and take them everywhere; school plays, funerals, and nursing homes especially.

So if you don’t own a gun, I recommend that you go out and buy at least fifty because, apparently, that’s the American way.  

   

Little Girls, Little Girls...

I’ve had a lot of good experiences in Japan. I’ve seen some amazing sights, eaten some incredible food, and have stumbled upon oddities that I had never encountered before. But no matter what I’ve seen, put into my belly, or been weirded out by; my all time favorite thing in Japan is watching little children’s expressions when they catch a glimpse of me.  
 
One day Erin and I were walking back from Makino and were passed by four boys on a bike (yes, I know I used the singular tense there.  Somehow four Japanese boys managed to cram themselves comfortably onto a solitary bike).  They cruised past us without giving us much notice, but quickly realized they had passed by two foreign girls and immediately all four of the heads twisted around and they all called out “Hello!” to us.  We of course said “Hello” back – they pretty much earned it for performing their amazing bicycle acrobatics.

Little girls tend to have the best reactions, though.  They’ll either totally freak out about my size and run/cry to their mothers, or stare at me in wonder like I’m some sort of near-extinct magical creature that will spirit them away to Narnia.  

I was shopping in the supermarket today and was busy looking at the tempura section when I noticed a little blob of pink dashing through the isle. I turned around and saw a little girl rushing around – darting around people’s legs and generally just having a good time. 

Somehow she noticed that I was looking at her and she paused and looked up at me (this took a while, because her eyes went to where she thought mine would be, which was about mid-torso, so her eyes just kept going up and up…).  When she finally got to where my eyes were, her head was nearly horizontal to the ground.  I watched her little eyes go wide in terror and she ran full tilt to the safety of her mother and spent the rest of the shopping trip looking at me from behind her mother’s legs.  

I know I shouldn’t have found it so funny, but that little girl’s abject horror at my size was pretty darn hilarious.  It reminded me of the scene from the Road Runner Cartoons where Wile E. Coyote was standing wide-eyed on the ground right under the falling boulder. 
Hilarious!    

Umeda? I Hardly Knew Her!

Yesterday was a good day out for the simple reason that it was a simple day.  For once, Erin and I were out by ourselves and weren’t being tugged around by other people.  This meant two things: 1; we got to do whatever activities we want without having to worry about any one else, and 2; we got to take our *time*.  For some reason every group we go out with seems to be practicing for outrunning brush fires and make it their personal mission to get us where we want to go in the shortest time possible (even if it means taking us through some of the more… interesting parts of town). 

 

But yesterday was different and that was nice.  We woke up when we wanted, had a nice leisurely breakfast without worrying about having to rush to meet any one at (insert location) station.  I even got to test my train station skills and successfully bought my tickets and got on the correct train.  Erin, having little to no sense of direction, kept trying to get us lost, but even that wasn’t too much of a bother because I knew where we were most of the time.  We started our day off by finding the Ferris Wheel in Umeda.  Erin, despite being terrified of heights and actually despising Ferris Wheels, has been bugging me to go on one ever since we saw one outside the aquarium in Osaka.  I agreed to accompany her on the condition that she not touch me during the ride (I’ve heard stories from Molly about Erin’s crushing grip when she went on the Ferris Wheel with her and I decided that I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of one of her death-grips). 

 

As it turns out this Ferris Wheel was built on the seventh floor of this indoor shopping mall monster.  This mall was so big that they hung a giant fiberglass Mama Whale with her calf from the ceiling and were able to fit no less than a bajillion stores in this place.  As I said: huge.  So Erin grabs a map of this place and we make our way to the Ferris Wheel.  We were loaded on board and weren’t all that surprised to find the benches in our closed car to be heated.  I don’t know why Japan is obsessed with heating any surface you sit on, but with how cold it gets here I’m certainly not going to complain.  So we both ‘ohh’ and ‘ahh’ our way through the ride, pointing out various places in Umeda that we’d been to or heard about, and then I found it.  Right behind me was the Umeda Sky Building – one of the places I wanted to visit that day.  Erin and I memorized as many landmarks as we could that lead to the building, and after we exited the Ferris Wheel we set off to find it. 

 

It took a long time to get to the Umeda Sky Building because of all the construction that was happening down town.  Japanese construction is painfully efficient.  This means that they will almost entirely close down main roads and pathways and cause everyone else to have obnoxiously long delays, but they do their work quickly and are completely finished and gone in under a week.  My usual walking route to school was being repaved and Erin and I took bets to see how long it would take them to finish.  Erin gave them 5 day, and I gave them 7.  They were done 2 and half and cleaned the entire road before they left.  The road was clean enough that I would have felt comfortable eating right off the ground.  It was seriously that nice. 

 

Anyway, we had a rather long detour on the way to the building, but it was worth is once we got there.  The building itself is impressive – two towers connected by a main circular deck on top called “The Floating Garden Observatory”.  Getting to the top of the building was a lot of fun.  You have to take an elevator that stops on the 35th floor (it only had three buttons – 1, 3, and 35) and from there you took an escalator up to the 38th.  The cool thing was that both the elevator and escalator were see-through, so you got to watch the scenery as you climbed higher and higher above the cityscape.  We took the final set of stairs onto the roof and immediately we lost the ability to speak.  You could see for absolute *miles* around every side of the building.  It was amazing.  We found the Ferris Wheel we had been on before that had seemed so big and tall and laughed because from the top of the Sky Building it was just this tiny splotch of red.  There were those heavy-duty mounted binoculars scattered across the roof (free to use, no less), so we had a lot of fun looking for familiar sights in the city.  I found a children’s soccer game and watched and cheered them on for awhile.  All in all, I think it was worth the 700 yen to get to the top of this building.

 

One of the other things I wanted to do in Umeda was go and see a movie, but we couldn’t decide on which one to see.  I wanted to go see the new Deathnote Movie “L: Change the World”, but apparently “Sweeny Todd” was still in theaters and Erin wanted to see that.  I told her that I would see “Sweeny” again if we could come back next week and see “L”.  Because her movie was getting ready to leave theaters here, it was a good agreement on both our parts and we got in line to get our tickets.  I had purchased tickets in Japan for various things before: amusement parks, trains, and food, but I was not prepared for the experience that was buying a Japanese movie ticket.

 

Thanks to warnings from my friend Ashleigh (thank you so, so much), I knew that the Japanese have assigned movie seats, so if you want to sit with your friend you need to buy your tickets all at once.  So I went to the window and set about to order two tickets, only to have the woman at the counter bombard me with questions I didn’t understand.  Thankfully, there was a chart in the window she pointed to that helped me understand the situation.  Apparently buying movie tickets is an awful lot like buying tickets for a play.  You get to choose where in the theater you sit – this includes section, row, seat numbers, and if you prefer a middle or aisle seat.  After a couple of minutes of nodding my head and saying “that’s fine”, hoping the woman would understand my bad Japanese and realize that I really just wanted two tickets and didn’t give a fig about where they were.  Thankfully she did, and we got tickets to the show we wanted.

 

We both showed up to the movie half an hour early in our usual American fashion, but we realized very soon that almost no one did that.  Then we realized why: having assigned seats in a movie theater guarantees you a good seat.  There was really no need to show up early to grab a good seat.  Almost immediately we went from talking about how complicated their movie ticket system was to praising it.  To waste time before the movie we bought stuff from some capsule machines (those little toy vending machines they have in grocery stores in the US – but a thousand times better.  I got a cool keychain with a cow split in half and all of its internal organs labeled in Japanese in one of them).  We ended up with house key covers shaped like cat paws.  Mine was gray, which made me miss my kitty Sindafin a lot.  I bet you she planned for me to get that one so I’d be forced to think of her, the evil little puff ball. 

 

So we’re ushered into the theater and we find our seats and start talking for a bit before the movie.  Erin says she’s really excited about seeing a movie with subtitles, because she hadn’t done it before.  I was confused by that statement because I know for a fact we’ve seen tons of movies with subtitles before.  She went on to clarify by saying “I know, but this is the first time I’ve seen a movie with subtitles that I don’t need to read!”  I hadn’t thought about it until then, but she was right.  Suddenly, I was flooded with excitement about seeing a subtitled movie, too.  Since I’d seen “Sweeny Todd” before, I spent a lot of the movie listening to the audio and trying to read the subtitles and seeing how they matched up.  I couldn’t understand most of it, but I did get a little.  I have a new found respect for translators and just how hard it is to take something in an entirely different language and make it understandable not only linguistically, but culturally, to an entirely different society.  Kudos to all of you.

 

I also want to ask everyone who has ever used a cell phone in a movie theater in America during a movie one question:  What is wrong with you?  I have seen Japanese girls walk around with their hands by their head because their arm muscles have atrophied and frozen there from talking on their phones too much.  Even so, they are able to turn off their phones and watch the stupid movie!  Japanese phones are 1000 times cooler than American phones – you can use them to buy stuff from vending machines, and have pictures you *just* took at a photo booth sent directly to them!  If they are able to turn off their amazing technological smorgasbord of a handheld device for 2 hours – why is it you think it so imperative to receive a misspelled text message from your friend who is sitting in another movie?  Sorry, that just always bugs me…

 

Anyway…    

 

In America, once the movie is over and the credits start to roll everyone stands up and leaves the theater, with the exception of the hardcore fans that are hoping for an extra scene after the credits.  In Japan, the lights stay off and everyone remains seated until the credits are finished.  I was struck by how very Japanese that is – waiting patiently for everyone who participated to be acknowledged for their contributions.  I thought that if I ever worked on a movie that I would appreciate that sort of recognition for my work.  Sometimes all of the Japanese pleasantries and etiquette is overwhelming, but other times it’s just nice and makes you feel good.  Watching that movie was one of the latter ones.             

  

Sometimes...

Sometimes when I get homesick I go grocery shopping because they play American oldies over the sterio system there.  On some level I think that lip syncing to Stevie Wonder in the middle of a supermarket may not be the best way to fit in here, but on that petulant American level deep within my soul I just really can't bring myself to care too terribly much. 

Nara and Beyond

  Gee, I've been reeeeally terrible about updating this blog in a timely manner.  I'm just going to say it's because I'm out experiencing Japan first hand and not admit to sitting around in the kitchen watching High School Dramas and eating toast.  
 
  Moving on, then.
 
 On the 17th I signed up for a tour that my school sponsored that would take me to “Uzumasa Eiga Mura” (“Uzumasa Movie Land” for those of you who don’t read my terrible Romanji spelling).  The best way I can describe it is that it’s some sort of small Japanese version of Hollywood.  They have all these historically accurate buildings and scenery there that they actually use for filming historical dramas and samurai shows.  It was cheesy beyond all belief, but I had a really great time (mostly because I’m cheesy beyond all belief and get really into stuff like that).   
 
   My favorite part of that trip had to be the play we saw.  It was about ninjas (shinobi) and it was one of the coolest plays I had ever seen.  You know how when you buy tickets to a High School production of “West Side Story”, and you know it’s not going to be good, but you go anyway because you have nothing better to do?  Well, that was the initial feeling I had when I started watching this play.  The acting was cheesy and over the top, the props were only so-so in quality, and I wasn’t really all that into it. 
 
  Then it started getting cool. Suddenly all these fights would break out and ninjas were throwing themselves of off balconies and using trampolines to do all these crazy jumps and backflips around the stage, and the lights went all crazy as the characters started using their special techniques on one and other. It was like watching a 500 year old episode of “Power Rangers” live. Amazing! We tried to go back and watch it again, but when we went back to the theater later there was just some old storyteller talking about frogs and doing strange things to women. It wasn’t nearly as cool as ninjas.  
 
     Pictures of my trip to Uzumasa start here: http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v472/P34chG0dd355/Japan/P2160412.jpg
    
 
  Last Wednesday ( February 20) I went on a trip to Nara with my speaking partner Saki and her friend Yuuko.  For those of you who don’t know, Nara has approximately 1,000,000 deer per square inch of land, and all of them are domesticated.  This means that they will walk up to you and start nudging you and your bags/purses looking for food handouts.  I even saw one deer walk right into a shop and the owners didn’t even blink.  In one word: AMAZING! I had so much fun petting and feeding all of the deer that I wouldn’t have cared if they bit off a toe or two!  A lot of the girls around us were wary of the deer and got scared when they got nudged, but these were cute little mini-deer whose antlers had been sawed off, so it had all the pushing power of an irritated five year old.  It was noting to worry about at all. 
 
  The coolest thing about the deer has to be how unflappable they all are.  They’ll walk on the sidewalks right next to busy intersections and no so much as blink when people honk their horns.  I’m used to seeing deer on the side of the road and getting panicky because one might decide to play full-contact tag with my front bumper, so just seeing dozens of deer not throwing themselves into traffic was a magical sight to me.  
 
  Nara Park, the place with all the deer, sits right next to the “Todaiji”, also known as “Nara Temple”. I’m going to say it now, and none of you are truly going to understand how impressive this building is until you see it for yourselves – but this temple was ENORMOUS! The back of the ticket boasted it as being the largest wooden structure in the world, despite the fact that it’s been rebuilt and is noticeably smaller than it’s previous incarnation. 
 
  The reason it’s so big is because it has to fit this giganta-huge Buddha inside of it. And just so you have some idea of how big this Buddha is, I’ll tell you a little story. There is a hole in a pillar inside of Nara Temple that is the exact same size as one of the nostrils on the Buddha. They say that if you fit through the hole that you’ll be given luck and it may even extend your life. This nostril-sized hole was big enough for *me* to fit through. That’s right; all 6’0 ft. and 160 lb. of me were able to fit through this hole. So when I say this Buddha is giganta-huge, I mean its GIGANTA-HUGE. When I first entered into the temple I was seriously awestruck by how amazing it was. I had never felt so tiny in my life. 
 
  As of right now Nara stands as my new favorite place I’ve visited in Japan, and I would go again in a heartbeat.    
 

    And a pictures of me climbing through “Buddha’s Nostril” is here:    http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v472/P34chG0dd355/Japan/P2200519.jpg
 
  Hey! I’m now sort of up-to-date with my posting!  Yeay! Let’s talk about my most recent trip, then.
 
  Last Saturday (the 23rd) Erin, Jean-Luc (a classmate of mine, Jean-Luc’s roommate Yannik, and I went on a day trip to Umeda.  We were on a mission, you see. One of Jean-Luc’s professors had told him of a store in Umeda called “Mandarake” that is allegedly bigger than it’s sister stores in Kyoto and Tokyo, so we set out Saturday morning to track down this mythical Otaku-paradise.  It was sort of like our own Quest for the Holy Grail, only we eventually found the store and no one had to die.  
 
  Let me describe this store to you a little: it takes up about half of the city block and the entire first floor is a SEGA arcade (which in itself was amazingly fun. I played Taiko drumming, Puyo Pop, and won about $30 in prizes from a version of the claw-machine), but the store has two other floors. The second floor is manga (Japanese comics) and nothing but manga. The best part of that? None of the manga were over 600 yen (approx. $6). And while I loved looking through the shelves and finding series that I knew, the fact that I could only read a hand full of words and phrases in the books took a lot of fun out of having an entire room full of graphic novels. 
 
  My personal favorite floor was the third floor. The third floor had everything: models, model kits, posters, games for every system imaginable, CDs, dojinshi (fan made comics), cosplay materials and costumes, and even had a karaoke stage so you could sing a long to your favorite anime theme songs. It was amazing. I could have stayed there all day, and probably would have, if I hadn’t started feeling woozy because I had forgotten to eat all day (whoops). 
 
  After everyone had eaten lunch (mine was a rice omelet with cheese and some hamburger-covered deep-fried quail eggs) we decided that we would like to visit Den Den Town. For those that don’t know, Den Den is the Osaka version of Akihabara – an electronics and geek district in Tokyo. So we hopped aboard a train and went to Den Den. I will tell you that I managed to find a lot of games I was looking for, but I will not disclose just how much I spent there (I’ll give you a hint, though: way, Way, WAY too much….).  We didn’t spend a whole lot of time in Den Den because it was getting late (and by that point we’d already been gone around 10 hours), so we called it a night and went home.  
 
  Since our Den Den excursion was cut a little short (and because Erin wants to ride the giant Ferris Wheel in Umeda and I want to go see the new “Deathnote” movie while it’s still in theathers), we’re making tentative plans to visit again this weekend; this time with our friends and housemates Lindsey and Travis. We’ll see how that works out.
 
   Pictures of Umeda and Den Den Town start here:   http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v472/P34chG0dd355/Japan/P2220527.jpg
 
 
  Side note: I recently discovered the existence of the Japanese version of “Guitar Hero”.  It’s called “Shamisan Hero”, and I have made it a personal goal of mine to track down an arcade that has it.  

Osaka: A Retrospective

This past Saturday Erin, Adrianna, Yasahiro and I decided that we wanted to go to Osaka to visit the Kaikukan (Osaka Aquarium).  That morning we awoke to a pleasant sight: snow was drifting lightly down into the streets and accumulating slightly on the leaves of the trees in the park across the way.  "How pretty!" we all said.  We walked to Gotenyama train station while Yasahiro explained to us that even though it was snowing in Hirakata, we wouldn't get much (if any) accumulation.  In all of his years of school he's never experienced a snow day (how sad is that?)

Anyway, we arrive at the Aquarium with a light dusting of snow on the ground, with Yasahiro repeating how strange the weather was.  We gave the admission people our discount tickets that Yasahiro helped us buy at a local convenience store (that machine had about a million buttons, each with a kanji none of us had ever seen before) and we were in!  We had an awesome time looking around the aquarium - especially at the main attraction: the Whaleshark!  It was so cool!  And even though my camera was acting up when I tried to take pictures of other marine life, I just kept snapping awesome picture after awesome picture of that Whaleshark.  After cruising throught the aquarium (and stopping for a long while in the gift shop...) we walked outside to find around an inch and a half of snow and slush on the ground.  We all rolled up our pants and soldiered on, but even walking as carefully as we were, it was only a matter of time before water seeped into our shoes and up our pants' legs.  We didn't care though, because we were still in the midst of our "snow is so magical!" mentality.  

On the way back to the train station Yasahiro asked if we would like to see Osaka Castle.  He told us the train stop was on the way home, but we'd have to walk an additional twenty minutes to get to the castle.  Adrianna was especially excited to see it, so Erin and I shrugged our shoulders and followed Yasahiro to our next stop.  Since seats on the trains in Japan tend to have heaters in them, we realized very quickly upon exiting the train just how wet we were from the falling snow and slush.  It wasn't until we reached our first staircase that things began to get a little scary.  None of the sidewalks or stairs had been salted, so everystep you took you risked putting your weight onto a big clump of compacted snow (read: crazy-dangerous ice).  This wouldn't have been so bad, but I quickly discovered that the boots that had been keeping my feet nice and warm provided limited traction in this weather.  Hmm.  So I slide carefully along the sidewalk, making my way towards the castle.  

Once we get there we encounter another obstical:  ramps.  The castle was built on a veeeerrry high hill as a percaution against invading forces, and in an effort to seem nice to visitors, they opted for having a series of steep ramps leading to the castle instead of stairs (and since, according to Yasahiro, it never snows in Hirakata, this was a pretty considerate thing to do with no negative consequences involved).  Long story short; Erin pretty much pulled me up the ramps while I slipped and skidded all over the place.  Eventually we got to the top of the castle, and I have to tell you that it was worth all the trouble.  The entire castle and grounds were covered in a blanket of snow, and the grey sky behind the castle made the gold embelishments on the castle practically glow.  It was jaw-droppingly beauitful and we were very lucky to have been able to see it like that.  

Afterwards we stopped at Subway and ordered some very interesting food.  I got chicken and cheese melt on onion and pepper bread with basil mayonaise, and Erin bought an avacado with shrimp sub.  I was so happy to have warm food in my belly that I didn't even care that it came with a $10 price tag.  And in case you're wondering: yes, it was the best Subway sandwich I have ever had and I don't think I'll ever be happy eating at American Subways ever again. 

We arrived home at around 6:30 at night (having left at 9:00 that morning).  I was sopping wet, freezing cold, my nose was running, and I had developed a slight fever from romping in the slush for so long, but despite all that, I still had that warm "it's been a good day" feeling in me.  I pretty much fell into a dead sleep that night and refused to wake up in the morning, despite how ever many times my alarm clock tried.  Even though my sleep schedule is all out of whack and I'm still a little sore, I think that Saturday was one of the best days I've had in Japan yet. 

Despite all the snow we had.

Even though it never snows here.
       

Hirakata Castle in the snow: http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v472/P34chG0dd355/Japan/P2090850.jpg

Whaleshark!  Rar! 
http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v472/P34chG0dd355/Japan/P2080793.jpg

For more pictures please visit my Photobucket page! : http://smg.photobucket.com/albums/v472/P34chG0dd355/Japan/?start=0