Sunday, June 19, 2005

Welcome to the Land of the Rising Sun

Well... what can I say. I'm here!

I don't know how much time I have, so I'll try and cover everything, but briefly.

Had a little bit of a "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" fiasco, not once, but twice on the way over here. Had a little runaround at the Terminals in San Diego, but luckily made it on time. The flight from LA to Tokyo was almost 11 hours. Long, but not unbearable. Three average movies, and two above-average meals. Then there was a little bit of stress when I got to the airport in Tokyo; our plane touched down when my connecting flight to Nagoya was boarding. By the time I got through customs there was perhaps 30-40 minutes before my flight was taking off. I got through customs just fine, but when I asked for directions to the right place to get my connecting flight the security guard sent me to the wrong terminal. By the time I got back to the Terminal I had just left, the flight had gone. Luckily it was no sweat to get them to fix things for me, so they set me up on the Japanese national airline (ANA) with a nice cushy seat less than an hour later.

So I arrived in Nagoya around 9 PM local time, which would be roughly 8 AM in Toronto, or 3 AM on the west coast. So that means I had been travelling for roughly 16 hours. And that's without the time change. I left LA at 11:30 AM Tuesday and arrived at 9 PM Wednesday night. I got a ride back to the training apts., called the Kenshu centre, where I met my roommate, a kindly fellow by the name of Phil, who just happens to be friends with Chrisitan's supervisor. He's from Kelowna, BC, but originally from Scotland. Really nice guy. I got in kinda late that night though, so we pretty much just crashed. The next day the two of us took the subway into the downtown core of Nagoya and wandered around for a while before heading over to Nagoya castle.

Our first attempt at ordering food was funny, because it was a tiny family-owned place, and the hostess didn't speak a word of English (Ei-go). Luckily, I had my little translation book, and told her roughly to decide for me. Whatever it was that we ended up eating, it was delicious, as ALL the food has been since arriving here. Christian and I both agree that we will have a difficult time re-adjusting to a North American diet, should we ever return, that is.

Nagoya castle was a decent experience... beautiful grounds, but the castle itself is a reconstruction from after WW II, for obvious reasons. There were many beautiful sections of walls and doors on display, samurai armor, old coins and such. But this castle is nothing compared to Himeji castle, however I'm straying from chronological order a little.

Friday morning (Thursday for all of you in N.A.) I jumped on a Shinkansen (bullet train) and headed over to Himeji to visit my good pal Christian. It's been practically 6 months to the day since I had last seen him, but as he pointed out the last thing I said to him in Toronto was: "See you in six months!" And you know what? I wasn't lying. The bullet train is just that. Like an airplane on the ground. But what an amazing country this is. Rice paddies everywhere, and lots of mountains barely glimpsed through the low-lying clouds. It has been fairly overcast since I've been here, but to tell you the truth I haven't really been paying much attention to the sky. It has also been humid, oppressively some days, so I take lots of cold showers to mediate the heat.

Christian had to work Friday afternoon so I took myself to Himeji castle. Anyone who's been to Guelph would appreciate the geographyof Himeji because the castle is on a hill above the rest of the city, directly down at the end of the main street. Also, none of the buildings in the vacinity can be taller than the castle, just as in Guelph no buildings can be taller than the church. The castle itself is incredible. Some people have told me the most beautiful in all of Japan. I took probably a whole roll of film, so once I get the shots developed I will try and get them scanned so you can see for yourself. In the meantime I can tell you that the most impressive detail for me were the stairs in between each floor. They reminded me of the steps in a submarine, or the side of a really steep pyramid. The grounds are beautiful too, with a moat surrounding the entire castle grounds. I'm glad I had a chance to come down to Himeji and see such a wonderful part of Japanese history.

That evening, Christian and I met up with his supervisor, Joel and his Japanese friend Kozue, who is an almost completely fluent English speaker. She took us to an Izakaya, which is like the Japanese equivalent of a pub: beer and cheap eats. We had a couple pints and a mini feast and then went round the corner to a Karaoke bar for a little sing song. We crooned some Beatles and various other classic tunes, and just generally had a good laugh. There are some pictures of the evening on my photo website if you want to see for yourself, just look in the Himeji album:

So now Christian and I are off for some okonomiyaki, which is something I haven't tried yet, and have no idea what exactly it is. Such is my experience so far to a tee, but I am up for anything and Japan keeps offering up all these prime visceral moments that I am loving.

Tonight: Osaka. Report to follow soon.

Hope you are all well in your own wheres and whens. Much love to everyone.