So I realized after an e-mail from my mother (and then further urging from Lysse) that I still hadn't talked about my trip to Japan yet. So here we go!
I made sure to have everything ready the night before, so the day I left was mostly waiting and cleaning my apartment. I asked the gate guard if he could help me to get a taxi to come to the apartment building (way at the back of campus) since it was POURING rain. I was worried at first that my attempt at communication had gone badly, but the guard showed up at the door with a taxi exactly when I asked. I bargained with the driver to take me all the way to the airport for less than the meter price because I didn't feel like switching over to the maglev. I had some noodles at the airport for dinner, then boarded my flight to Japan.
The customs paperwork was simple and the flight was only slightly more than two hours. We still got a meal, which was ok. I felt really fuzzy brained when I got off the plane. Whenever anyone spoke to me, I thought it was Japanese, even if they were speaking English. I think I am so used to the Chinese accent that the Japanese accent was just bizarre for me for the first day or so. The poor customs guy had to ask me the same simple question three times before it sunk into my thick skull and I could answer. I got my luggage, exited the gate and saw D'Arcy. YAY! We talked for the whole train ride from the aiport to the center of the city, then while walking from the train station to the hostel and then for another few hours at the hostel. We had about 6 months of news to catch up on. :-)
The next morning we packed up and headed to the train station. We took a 2 and half hour bus ride to Kyoto and then a train to Nara. When we checked into the Nara hostel I had one of my first culture shocks. I knew about the Japanese custom of taking off your shoes at the door, but I didn't think we'd have to do it at the hostel door. D'Arcy just laughed at me when I asked if it was safe for us to leave our shoes at the door. "Won't someone steal them?" I kept asking. "This is Japan." she kept saying. I also didn't know that there would be shoes just for the toilet. They even said "Toilet Shoes" on them. And the door to our room in the hostel didn't lock! Apparently Japan is either a lot safer or more trusting (or both) than either America or China.
We took a bus to the deer shrine and big buddha in Nara. There were deer EVERYWHERE. They just wander around. They aren't scared of people (since the people there feed them) so they come right up and sniff you and you can pet them!
We walked through, taking pictures and petting the deer, until we reached the temple with the big carved wooden Buddha
Entering the temple I showed D'Arcy what a nerd I was. Before coming I did a bunch of reading on line about Japan (language, culture, customs, etc) and read somewhere that before entering a temple the correct procedure was to wash your left hand, wash your right hand, fill your left hand with water to wash out your mouth and then wash your left hand again. Yeah...the whole time in Japan I acted like I was going to be tested afterward.
Here's the water and ladles you can use to wash your hands.
There they had something called "ema", these small wooden planks that your write a wish on and hang it up in the temple so it comes true. We wished for health and happiness for our friends and family and that our friend Tom (who was supposed to come but wasn't able to at the last minute) could come see Japan someday.
I found out that my Chinese credit card was accepted at the temple gift shop so I got a few small things for some friends and coworkers. After that I got some deer cookies so we could feed the deer. That was INTENSE. As soon as we had food for them we got REALLY popular. I got bitten on the butt and then on the thigh hard enough to leave a bruise. OUCH!
D'Arcy is being mobbed here...
We got "soft cream" (soft serve ice cream); mine was green tea and vanilla mixed and was quite tasty.We met up with D'Arcy's friend Masako for dinner. I chose a "mother and child" rice dish, which means chicken and egg. It was pretty good. I had a weird moment of shock eating it because I think I assumed it was going to taste a certain way from looking at it (probably because it looked like a similar Chinese dish) but it tasted completely different from what I expected. Once I got over that, I enjoyed it.
Masako and I at dinner.
We went to Mr. Donut afterward for dessert and coffee (since I was exhausted). We walked and ended up at this nice pond. We sat and hummed for turtles (long story, but some of my blog readers will understand). We talked about ghosts, which was a little freaky to talk about in the dark. Masako believes in ghosts 100% and told us of some of the ones she has seen. I'll believe in ghosts the second I see one and not a minute sooner, but the conversation gave me goosebumps.
We walked towards the train station but were sidetracked by an arcade. There is something called "purikura" which is really popular. It's basically a really intense photo booth. You choose different frames and backgrounds and such and then afterward you edit the pictures by drawing, writing and putting clip art and special effects on them. Then the pictures are printed as stickers that you can put on your phones/notebooks/whatever and share with your friends. I only ended up doing it twice in Japan. We also played a taiko drumming game. It's like Guitar Hero...except instead of a guitar your playing a taiko style drum. It was a lot of fun.
Then it was back to the hostel and to bed.