Monday, March 22, 2010

Brian comes to call... and tour

Brian arrived for his first visit on March 9th, and I took the very comfortable free shuttle from the base to Narita Airport to meet him. It was late when we got home, but Brian woke up the next day as if jetlag was non-existent. Well, he's up nights and sleeping days alot anyway, so it worked well for his visit. We stuck around Yokosuka for the first two days, including my birthday.

We went by train to Tokyo (Asakusa and Ueno districts) on the 12th. I'd had a scratchy throat and by then, I was feeling the full effects of a cold. In Asakusa, we headed for the Senso-ji Temple and it's very extensive shopping area. We were approached by two groups of kindergarteners, who asked if they could speak English with us.

Each one told us his/her name and then asked if we liked Japanese food. They got more than they bargained for from me. I was very excited to tell them just how much I like Japanese food, but I did mention that I'm not crazy about Okonomi Yaki.

Then we signed their worksheet with our name and home country and put a sticker on a map.

We bought a fortune from the Temple, but it was not good. We were supposed to tie it onto a pole and leave it there without reading it, but we brought it home with us, so I'm guessing that we're screwed!

From there we headed to Ueno, the artsy district. We stopped in a museum and saw some street performers. This guy and his partner did yoyo tricks, including a yoyo-ing Barbie, but we missed out on the comedy portion of the show. They had a dialogue that caused periodic laughter, but we stood there straightfaced. It was Greek to us.

On Saturday, Allan joined us for a trip to Kamakura. Do you remember that Kamakura was once the capital of Japan (before Kyoto, which was before Tokyo)? We've been twice before. It's a cute town with shops, restaurants and a really big Buddha. Brian went inside, but I'd been there, done that. We had a great lunch (is there any other kind?) and did some shopping.

Allan has a cold (and he's heading Virginia in a few days) so he didn't go with us on Sunday. We headed for Yokohama and ...


I've been there before, but I was like a rat in a maze. We walked up one street, then down the next, but I don't have a compass in my head (don't say it).

Being lost isn't always a bad thing. It's good to have that attitude when you spend as much time being lost as I do. We had time to wander around, so that's just what we did. I'd hoped we wander into Motomachi the Rodeo Drive (posh shopping) of Yokohama. No such luck!

Chinatown is the same, no matter what part of the world you're in. This looks just like London Chinatown, and San Francisco if the streets were a little wider.

We bought some goodies and had a good meal, which is easy to do around here. Brian's having ramen and pork buns. You can get pork buns and other finger foods all up and down the street, but it felt like a sit-down lunch day, and Brian never liked food wrapped in paper, even as a child. I couldn't bribe him with McDonald's - Steak and Ale maybe.

Brian went into Yokosuka some nights to check out the local nightlife, but by Monday he was feeling the effects of my cold. He hung around the house Monday and Tuesday, then Wednesday, the 17th and St. Patrick's Day, we took the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Kyoto.

Brian's enjoying a drink called sweat while we waited for the train. Umm, appealing!

We were on the train for about 2 1/2 hours. It is a bullet, just look at it. There were a few very quick stops. After each stop, the stewardess came by with a cart of items which had to be purchased. Brian and I split a sandwich assortment, one was potato salad & tomato and another liverwurst. The Japanese have a relationship with the Germans, remember Oktoberfest (my October 17th post).

Here Brian is boarding the train, which is incredibly clean and comfortable. Oh, to have that kind of leg room on an airplane. For the price, I'm thinking everyone gets a first class seat. We had reserved seats, but I wouldn't want to stand holding a strap from Tokyo to Kyoto.

I don't really know how much I paid. I had a travel agent book the train, hotel and a tour.

Speaking of the tour, this lovely structure is the Kinkakuji Temple or 'Golden Pavallion' and is actually a temple. There is a phoenix on the top, gold of course. We saw a samurai castle, two temples, Kyoto Imperial Palace (remember Kyoto was once the capital), a shrine, and had lunch at Kyoto Handicraft Center, which was full of... stuff to buy!

And no stop at a religious site would be complete without a donation box. This one is a game of sorts. Brian hit the bucket and people clapped. You can see that more people than not miss the mark.

The structure below is painted orange to scare away evil spirits, even at night (because orange is such a scary color).

I took photos of unique architectural ornamentation. There were metal adornments on corners of buildings, railings, around windows and door frames, it was quite beautiful.

The gardens at these temples, shrines and the Shogun palace weren't too shabby either.

There is a school for geisha in Kyoto and we kept hearing about seeing maikah, which would be a geisha-in-training. I assume the five young girls in kimono are just that.

I had a shot of this kimono clad teenager on a cellphone, but I couldn't get my camera out quick enough! She's got it in her hand.

Our third day in Kyoto, we went back to the Kyoto Handicraft Center for a little block printing and each did two pictures. I love that 'hands-on' stuff. Brian goes along with me on most stuff - I just plow ahead so he gets out of the way and catches my wake.

Once back in Yokosuka, Brian only had the weekend left. We had seen alot of Japan by that time, but not the California Pizza Kitchen in Kawasaki. Some friends invited us to meet them for lunch on Saturday. Unlike some restaurants (Denny's, McDonald's), this one is just like it would be in the U.S. The two couples with us had been to a 'fertility festival' and had pictures on I-phones. The Japanese are not prudish when it comes to fertility.

We stayed for a little shopping. I had no idea that shopping area was there! It's underground and I'd been on top of it a dozen times. Anyway... where was I? Oh, yeah, we didn't stay as long as the others, because Brian needed to rest up for his last Saturday in Japan. Big Plans.

Since the trains don't run between midnight and 5:00 am, Brian left the house for Tokyo around 9:30 pm, and returned around 8:00 in the morning. He reports that he found a couple of good spots, although one he'd seen online was not one of them.

We left on Monday, Brian for Portland, me for Orlando. I think he'll want to come back. He wants to see China.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Didn't he go over there to work?

It's me, Allan. Well, here I am as a guest columnist again. It seems Liz is finished skiing for the year and my cousin Jorey was in town (or country, again) and wanted to go, so we went. Last Saturday, we met at the Shinkansen (bullet train) in Tokyo. This was my first experience on the bullet train and it is definitely different from the regular train service in Japan.

It looks sleek and fast, and it is (about 120-160 mph). We made it from Tokyo to Echigo-Yuzawa Station in 80 minutes. I left Yokosuka at 6:30 AM and was skiing by noon. The resort was Mt. Naeba and we stayed at the Prince Hotel.
When we left Tokyo, it was about 45 degrees fahrenheit and raining. Jorey was telling me about a famous Japanese Nobel Prize winning author who wrote about going on the train and "after going through the tunnel and then there was snow". Well, after going through the tunnel "then there was snow"!
When we arrived at the slopes and were getting ready to ski, we met my boss and his family. The skiing was like springtime - slow, mushy and choppy - and a lot of hard work. That night it got colder and snowed about 4-5 inches. That made Sunday really treacherous. Under the new snow - ICE! With a lot of people on the slopes and icy conditions, skiing was difficult. Jorey and I did find some nice areas and had a blast. We skied (I skied, Jorey snow boarded) hard that morning and left the slopes at 1:00 PM.

We were on the train when a colleague sent me an email that the trains going along the coast from Tokyo to Yokosuka were cancelled due to the Tsunami caused by the Chilean earthquake.

Jorey and I took our time in Tokyo and the trains started running again, no problem just precautionary measures. Japan is way different from Florida. Like Dorothy said "Toto, we're not in Kansas any more".