Monday, September 18, 2006


So I’ve tried to post this for the last two days but our internet wasn’t working very well.

I POSTED PICTURES ---------------------------->
WARNING: My N button on my computer is broken so if a word appears to be missing a letter that is why.

So this is where flexibility comes into play with SAS. Last night we came back to the ship after spending a great last day in Japan and turned on the TV. Instead of saying Kobe to Qingdao it said Kobe to Hong Kong. Basically, if we went to Qingdao we would have to barrel right through the center of the Typhoon Shanshan (for those of you who don’t know what a typhoon is it is the same thing as a Hurricane with another name). In the middle of the typhoon there are 36 foot waves and 160 knot winds. So basically in a mandatory meeting last night they explained to us that we would be missing Qingdao and heading straight for Hong Kong by way of the Pacific ocean instead of the inland passage. For all of us that have Beijing trips we’ll be flying out of Hong Kong instead. The best news was we’ll be getting 50% of whatever we paid for the trip back. I have no idea why but I like the idea that I get to go on the trip and get money back. The most disappointing thing is I wont get to spend any time in Hong Kong. I’ll get to see it from the ship and bus but that’s it. Originally, we had 6 days between Qingdao and Hong Kong but now we only have 4 days total. We just have to look at it as an adventure I guess.

Now for Japan! I had an absolutely amazing time. To tell you the truth I wasn’t looking forward to it to much, the country had just never interested me to much, but now I would definitely go back.
When we pulled into the Port of Kobe on Tuesday there was a fireboat spouting fountains of water and a marching band to greet us. It was a really exciting moment. Everyone was standing on the decks watching. The Japanese people in the port and even on the overpass behind the port were all waving to us. There was even a cute old man dancing around to the music with an umbrella and a fan.
Although the ship pulled in at 8 am our cultural and diplomatic briefings took forever so we weren’t cleared to get off he ship until around 11:30. Instead of getting involved in the mad rush to get off Diana and I held back a little back and waited. When we did get off we went right up to the train line to take it into Sanamoya Station. We decided to get our rail passes before going to the ATM because we knew there would be a bad line if we waited. We didn’t have to wait in line for the passes but the ATM line was long and it would only let you take out money in multiples of 10,000 yen (approx. $100) and the max it would let you take out is 30,000 yen.
We went back to the train station to catch our train to Kyoto and got totally lost. We didn’t know what track to go to which trains went where (sometimes the trains don’t put your city as the destination but one past it). Luckily we ran into an American couple who had visited Japan several times so they were a lot of help. We got on an express train to Kyoto but before we even got Osaka something happened on the track so we had to get off and switch to a local train for the rest of the ride, which took forever. See, express trains only make a few stops local trains stop at EVERY stop along the way.
We finally got into Kyoto around 3:15. Let me say Kyoto station is architecturally amazing. I don’t think I could even conjure the words to explain what it looks like. It was fascinating but easy to get confused in too. We eventually found the tourist info center and they were so helpful. The man even made a reservation at a Ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn) for us, which was conveniently located across the street from the station.
The Ryokan was really awesome. When you walk in you have to take off your shoes and put on slippers. You wore the slippers up to our room and then right inside the door there was a little square of wood floor and a sink, beyond that there is a tatamie mat floor. I made the mistake of wearing the slippers onto the mat floor and I got yelled at by the lady that showed us our room. I don’t know what she said though because obviously it was in Japanese.
During the day the room was set up with a small table in the middle with tea on it and two pillows to sit on. Then there was also a TV in the corner. An odd mix. At night they put out thick mats for us to sleep on. It was really comfy except for the rice pillow. I’m glad I don’t have to sleep on one of those every night.
After we got settled into the Ryokan we attempted to make it to Sanjusangendo before it closed at 5:00. We made it there at 4:35 so stoked that we made it before closing. It turned out that they stop letting people in at 4:30. It was disappointing. So after that, thoroughly disappointed I decided to buy a coke in an aluminum bottle for one of the hundreds of vending machines and we walked to Gion, which is the geisha district. It wasn’t at all what I expected. It pictured it to be very traditional, but it was fairly modern with a lot of shops. We saw a couple geisha. Three of them we’re pretty sure were fake, we saw all of them on a street where all the tourists are. We’re pretty sure they just walk around so that the tourists can take pictures of them, but we did see another geisha in a completely different part of Gion who we definitely think was real. She was more well put together and was accompanied by her assistant, she ducked into a restaurant (I think that’s what it was) before we got to close though, and all restaurant doors are covered with curtains we couldn’t see inside.
The next day we woke up early and took the train out to Inari so we could go to Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine (Shinto), which is the shrine used in the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha” when she’s running through all of the red torri. I ended up having to buy an overpriced umbrella from a convenience store because it was raining so hard. I tried to do it with just a hat and coat, but in minutes I would have been soaked through.
The shrine was even more amazing than I had imagined. The torri were never ending, they stretched on for 4 kilometers, every now and again being broken up by a shrine. My favorite area was where the torri led up to a shrine right on a lake. Around the large shrine there were several personal shrines with miniature torri. What added to the element was a slight mist in the are caused by the rain that carried the smell of incense.
After Fushimi Inari we went to the Golden Pavilion. It was cool looking but not as cool as I thought it would be. Maybe I would have liked it better if I’d seen it before Fushimi Inari. Next we tried our luck again at Sanjusangendo. This time we were able to get in. I have to say it was amazing also. It was a giant hall filled with 1000 life sized Kanon figures and 1 giant Kanon. Kanon is one of Buddha’s Bodhisattvas. The scale of the work was incredible. It’s hard to imagine that so many statues can be made by hand. I wanted to take pictures so bad but because it’s still a functioning temple we weren’t allowed to.
The next temple we went to was called Nazen-ji. It wasn’t one of the more common temples so I’d doubt if anyone else from SAS went there but the description given of it in Lonely planet attracted both me and Diana to it. There is the normal temple complex, of which the grounds are free but you have to pay to get into any of the buildings. The Lonely Planet guide told us that if we walked through the complex, under a red brick aqueduct, and up a path we would be able to find a waterfall that the devout believe is sacred and bath under. When we finally reached the top of many stairs we found the waterfall. It was not a spectacular waterfall, just a stream of water dropping off of a rock but the setting was somewhat ethereal. Again there was a mist from the rain and set against the trees and waterfall it seemed somewhat magical.

The next day we got up early to catch the bullet train to Tokyo. The scenery along the ride was amazing. Mountains, rice fields, and the ocean. It was beautiful. We reached Tokyo at around 10:30 and headed straight for our hotel in the Asakusa area of Tokyo. Since check in wasn’t until 3:00 we were able to drop our stuff off but had to wait to register. That hotel was something else. It was one of 2 capsule hotels in all of Tokyo that accept women. For those who don’t know, in a capsule hotel there are no “rooms.” You stay in a 7 foot tube which has it’s own light, TV, etc. Out of 9 floors, the eighth floor was only for women. I wanted to take a shower but since the hotel was mainly for men, the bath was also only for men so I had to wash my hair in the sink. I wonder what the other women do.
We went out and explored the Asakusa area. Near the hotel we found a temple called Senso-ji. It looked really spectacular with a 5 story pagoda. Right next to the temple there was a small amusement park that only took up a quarter city block but fit all the essential rides into it. I thought it was a strange contradiction. Later we took the train to Shinjuku. Diana had heard that it had really cool modern architecture, but we couldn’t find it. All we saw was a lot of lights and advertisements for ladies/gentlemen’s clubs. After wards we went to Shibuya, which is the Tokyo version of Times square. Although Shibuya is bigger I think Times Square looks more mesmerizing. The one awesome thing about Shibuya though is the foot traffic. It’s the busiest intersections on earth. Every few minutes all of the lights turn red and the whole intersection turns into a cross walk which hundreds of people cross each time.
Overall I didn’t like Tokyo to much. It was very crowded and claustrophobic.
The next day me and Diana split up and went our separate ways. She wanted to go up north to Morioka to see a festival and I wanted to go back south the Nara. I got up at 6:00 and caught the 7:00 bullet train back to Kyoto, where I caught an express train for Nara.
I had planned on just doing Nara alone (Japan is one of the safest countries in the world to travel around in) but when I got there I ran into my friends Raine and Robin. If you ever go to Japan I would highly recommend going to this city. About 1km from the train station there is a huge park that is full of tame deer. You can buy crackers for 150 yen to feed them, although this can become quite dangerous. Once the deer see that you have the crackers they will crowd around you like pigeons. It gets quite scary. A couple deer tried to eat my shirt and anther one kept butting me. As I’m backing up trying to get away I had this huge group of Japanese just laughing at me, I guess I was half laughing at myself. As we got farther into the compound the deer got less aggressive. They would bow before you have them a cracker, kind of like the hippogriph in Harry Potter. It was strange.
In the middle of the park was Todai-ji temple, which is the largest wooden structure in the world. Inside of it there was a 50ft Buddha statue. In my art and architecture class I had learned that the Buddha was big, but I didn’t think it was going to be as big as it was. I am honestly about as tall as one of his fingers. There’s one pillar in the building that has a hole carved into it that you can crawl through that is as big as one of nostrils.
We went to McDonalds for lunch and it was so good. I know your probably thinking McDonalds! Your in a foreign country! Well, the McDonalds in Japan (and also the Wendy’s) has some different options. I got a Teriyaki burger and it was SOOOO good. I would highly recommend getting one of you ever go to Japan. It’s worth it.
After Nara we just went back to Kobe and walked around for a while. We met up with Heidi, Ruby, Sara, and Matte and they went and got some Sake. Since me and Sarah weren’t drinking, the girls behind the counter gave us free cokes. At first we couldn’t understand what they were doing, and the language barrier wasn’t helping much, but somehow it came across that they were just giving them to us.
It was so nice to get back to the ship that night, take a shower, and finally drop all of my stuff. I was so sick of walking with my backpack on. My neck still hurts from it.
The next day Heidi and I took the train down to Himeji to see the castle. It was kind of drizzling so I reluctantly brought along my umbrella. After 15 minutes the rain stopped and I ended up having to carry around my massive umbrella for the rest of the day.
As soon as you get out of the station you can see the castle on the top of a hill in the distance. You have to walk about 1km to actually get to the grounds and then when your inside you have to do a lot of extra walking and climbing. It was really beautiful although the inside wasn’t as impressive as I thought it would be. We had to take of our shoes and carry them in a bag every time we entered a building. The main castle building is 7 stories tall and you have to climb up steep staircases to get to the top. It acted somewhat like a museum. On each floor there would be a few glass cases containing some sort of painting, weapon, or Samurai Armor. Once on the top floor there was a spectacular view of all Himeji. The roofs of all the castle buildings looked really cool to. On the tips of the roofs there were dolphin figures.
After completing our first goal, visiting the castle, Heidi and I set out to accomplish our other goal, find and eat conveyor belt sushi. In blogs from past voyages I had heard all about conveyor belt sushi, so much so that I thought it was quite common. It was honestly the hardest thing to find ever. We asked several people in Himeji and still couldn’t find it so we decided to go back to Kobe and try our luck. After spending about half and hour trying to communicate with the women in the tourist center at Sanamoya station we finally got directions to a place.
I didn’t hate sushi as much as I thought I would. It actually wasn’t bad at all, at least the type I had. I had a piece of shrimp and some yellow stuff in it. There were other types of sushi coming out on the belt that I would have rather shot myself than ate. Squid sushi, eel sushi, fish eggs, you name it they had it.
After feeling satisfied with accomplishing both of our goals we set out to find the 100 yen store (equivalent to the US $1 store). When we got there we knew it was the place to be because about 10 other SAS kids and even the cameraman were there. 100 yen stores are much better than a $1 store could ever be. You can buy anything there and they’re fairly decent stuff. Any type of school supplies, canvases for painting on, dishes. Chopsticks, makeup, cleaning stuff, socks, Hello Kitty stuff (I was really excited about this), food, headphones, the list could go on and on.
After getting a crepe from “Dipper Dans,” and thoroughly stocking up on all flavors of Pocky we headed back to the ship. I’m sad to have left Japan but I’m so excited for the countries to come. Since now we have the two extra days at sea we had our A7 day yesterday, then we have today and tomorrow off of all classes except for Global Studies and we’ll have B7 on Wednesday. Then it’s Hong Kong on Thursday. I’m so excited!


At 9:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked all your pictures, its interesting when you think of japan you definintly don't think of deer, also that one city totally looked like downtown new york! have fun!

At 9:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

by the way, the comment above is from Becky!


Post a Comment

<< Home