Friday, July 25, 2008

New Blog...sort of

Just in case anyone was wondering,  my blog is now here. Come take a look.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Random Trip, Christmas, & NYE

Super Happy Random Trip

After a brief trip to Australia in November last year, to visit friends and family, I returned to Japan and embarked upon another little trip. This trip, like many of my trips in the past, was completely random. I had not made a single hotel reservation in advance; had not checked bus and train prices, or times; and I wasn't even sure where I wanted to go. All I knew was I wanted to see something new, and have a bit of an adventure (as cheaply as possible).

Trip summary: Arrived at Narita airport, missed my connecting flight to Fukuoka (on purpose). Caught a bus to Shinjuku and spent the night in an internet cafe. Next morning caught a bus to Kyoto, spent the night in a ryokan (traditional Japanese style inn). The following day rode a rental bike around the city, stopping at Nijo Castle and Kinkakuji, then caught a train to Kobe where I spent the night in a capsule hotel. Then I trained it to Himeji to see the very famous Himeji Castle.


This was my ryokan room. Being a Saturday it was not easy to find, nor was it cheap. But this is par for the course when you put absolutely no planning into your trip.

Nijo Castle
A section of the outer moat

Ninomaru Palace

Nijo Castle is different from other castles in that it has no imposing main structure or towers. Instead it has two rather unimpressive-looking main buildings: the Ninomaru Palace and the Honmaru Palace. I was allowed inside the Ninomaru Palace, but was not allowed to take photos. So I'll do my best to describe for you what I saw.

I had had a very specific reason for wanting to come to Nijo Castle, but by the time I got inside Ninomaru Palace I had forgotten all about it; until, that is, I was about halfway through the palace when I saw an elderly man softly bouncing on the worn floorboards.

But I'll get to that in a moment. What first caught my eye, as soon as I entered the main hallway, were the brilliant murals on the walls and sliding screen doors. They predominant colours were gold and green and blue and yellow. The imagery was awesome. There were maple trees and cypresses; tigers and leopards in bamboo groves; wild geese in rice fields; herons in willow trees; pine trees and peacocks; pine trees and hawks; and mountains and clouds. The background was always a rich golden colour. These murals were on every vertical surface of every room the hallway led us past.

As I mentioned above, I was about halfway round the palace when I came across an elderly man bouncing softly up and down on the spot. The floorboards were making a bird-like chirping sound...and then I remembered my reason for wanting to come in the first place: the nightingale floors.

The floorboards were intentionally constructed in such a way as to produce this sound, (said to be like a nightingale) when walked upon. It was an alarm system designed to protect the emperor, or the shogun, or whoever the hell it was living there, from assassination attempts. It was said that, in the dead of night, no one could cross the floor without making it sing like a nightingale. Now, I don't mean to brag, but as I was walking around, not one creak emanated from the boards underneath my feet, let alone the singing of a nightingale--that, my friends, makes me very ninja indeed.

The next nine photos are of the grounds of Nijo Castle



Kinkakuji (The Golden Temple)

I don't know much about Kinkakuji other than it's gold and famous.

A pond behind the temple

Next stop: Himeji

Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle is said to be one of the top three castles in Japan.

I first circled the castle on my an assassin, or, if you prefer, a ninja. I assessed every possible angle of attack.

  It is nicknamed 'White Heron Castle' because of its exterior

This is now my favourite tree. I forget its name but it made quite an impression on me. The red leaves were so bright, they seemed to be pulsing with a divine energy. I'm not religious, but standing underneath those trees I felt very close to "God".

Christmas '07
Is that Santa or the Grinch? The little boy is Takuna. You might remember him (probably not) from my Christmas story from last year, I mean 2006.
 This year I also went to a children's hospital. Peace! You've gotta do the peace sign when you have your photo taken in Japan. It's the law.

New Year's Eve '07

The Opening Ceremony

This is me partaking in the festivities. The barrel contains(ed) 18 litres of sake (of which I drank at least 17.8 litres). Here I'm being served by Kohji, my senpai, my senior. He may seem like a kind fellow, serving his juniors and whatnot, but don't be fooled, he'll order you to drink till you puke.

And thus we come to the next stage of the evening: the para(-lytic) nap.

What's up with the ghostly butt-face merging?

I woke up at around midnight. Just in time for the new year prayers. We went to Hakozaki Shrine near Masa's house.
   So too did 500,000 others. Japanese people love nothing more than a good line up. The shrine is a K (kilometre in laymans terms) or two off in the distance. I like this photo but it puzzles me. Why does it seem to have been taken from a height of at least a metre above the crowd? I am not that tall as you can clearly see in the next couple of photos.

And my hands are full.

What am I holding? In my left hand is a bowl of what they call 'jaga bata', which is steamed potato covered in lots of butter and salt and pepper and mayonaise. It is fantastic. As you can see from the photos the path to the shrine is lined with a myriad of food stalls (well perhaps you can't tell that they are food stalls). I couldn't resist and went for a wander until I came to a stall, quite some distance from where I left my friends, and ordered said jaga bata. I waited, in a non-disturbing-the-peace manner, while they cooked it. Then when it was done they handed it to me, ever so gently, and then requested payment. This part of the transaction took me somewhat by surprise (I was still well and truly under the influence of the sake). I searched my pockets, frantically, but they were empty. So I hot-footed it back to my friends in the line and got Masa to come and pay for the jaga bata. Back in the line I made good friends with other people who had also purchased jaga bata, and I vaguely remember getting into a lively, if at times incomprehensible, discussion on its culinary virtues.
In my right hand is a 'Cup-O-Sake'. I've no idea where it came from, certainly I did not purchase it.

Here I am at the shrine "praying". I do not fully remember this moment but I appear to have achieved the ultimate zen goal of 'nothingness', of no cognitive activity whatsoever. Neglecting the mental faculties seems to come naturally to me...

OK that's it for now. Till next time!