Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hannah Comes to Town part 7

Finally, the Friday installation of Hannah Comes to Town, in which we see monkeys and a castle. おまたせ いたしました

Hannah and I woke up at a decently early hour to head into Kyoto. It's an inexpensive 190 yen to get to Saga Arashiyama from Kameoka, possibly because it's the first legitimate stop in Kyoto. Saga Arashiyama is a well known area for a lot of reasons. The scenery is beautiful, there are many quaint shops and restaurants, the leaves are gorgeous in the fall, there are serene temples, Kinkakuji is in the area, the bamboo forest is nearby, and the Romantic Train from Kameoka along the Hozu River stops here. Hannah and I weren't in Arashiyama for any of these things, or for the piano museum, or for the doll shop. We were here for the monkeys.

Iwatayama Monkey Park is a short fifteen minute walk from Saga Arashiyama station. Take the larger exit (west, I believe) and keep walking down what seem to just be neighborhood streets, likely following some Japanese people, and hit a major road that runs next to a river. Turn right (north?) and follow the street and river to the first major intersection. Cross the street and walk over the bridge, then after the bridge ends follow the signs to the right. 

I've blogged about the monkey park before, to the sounds of Rafi's Bananaphone. I didn't mention then that the entrance fee is 540 yen for an adult, that it takes about 30 minutes to hike to the top (or it felt like it, at least), and it's a good idea to haul a large bottle of water with you.

Though we didn't linger much on our way up, once we reacher the summit of the Iwata mountain we did what I hadn't during my previous visit—feed the monkeys. For an mere 100 yen we received a bag of apple slices to hand to the grubby paws sticking through the wires of the enclosure. It was early enough in the day that the monkeys were fairly inactive, but the presence of visitors stirred a few to fighting over the fruit in Hannah's and my upturned palms. There's a video at the end of the post. I won't lie and tell you it's particularly entertaining. Hannah and I were both tired, I make a lot of "Ohm nom nom" noises, and the monkeys are all business. Still, it's worth a peek.

On the way back down Hannah and I decided to put our modeling skillz to good use. The woods on the mountain are reminiscent of the Fire Swamp in The Princess Bride, though to my knowledge there is no quicksand or Rodents Of Unusual Size. Here we entered phase two of our monkey park adventure, which is the part in which I am consistently out-modeled.
I attempt…something.

Hannah out-models me.

Neither of us managed to find our light. Tyra Banks would shun us. Still, I am out-modeled.

Hey, siblings, do you remember when Dad told us about sitting in the crotch of a mango tree, eating mangoes as a boy in Trinidad, and we thought it was hysterical that he was, heh heh heh, sitting in a, wait for iiiiiiiiitt, crotch? We were dumb. As am I in this photo.
Hannah, who actually went first (I think) has a knack for making an awkward position look comfortable. Which it wasn't. She told me many times that it hurt to stay like that, while I told her to hold on just a sec, I've almost got it, oops, that was underexposed so let me try one more time.

Here we find our light. I think we're about even.
Ah. Classic "mirror hand."

OMGosh hang on, there's a guy coming up the path haha! Oops the timer's already going! OMGosh we're such dorks smileyface.

Without me.

With me. And now I've hit my stride.

Now we got it. Feel free to print, enlarge, and frame on your living room wall. This is art, people. ART.

Hannah doesn't realize we've left the mountain. There are no monkeys to appreciate her skills here.

Yeah, I know our train is coming. But who in their right mind is going to give up the opportunity take a dark crotch shot picture in a porthole window overlooking the tracks for the Romantic Train?
Whaddya mean, "everybody"?

Next on the list of Things-To-Make-Hannah-See-Even-Though-She's-Exhausted was Nijo Castle. We took the Sagano JR line to Nijo (190 yen), got off the train and went around the corner to what I call the subway, which isn't really a subway since it also runs above ground. Whatever. Nijo Castle Street, or Nijojomae, is the first stop on the Tozai line. 120 yen later we were following signs out of the subway to the bright hot street.

Entry to Nijo Castle is 600 yen for adults. I'm pretty sure the castle is not the original, since these things tend to be set aflame by accident or angry people. I don't know (but you can if you click here. But this version of the castle is still really old. It's famous for the same things as most other castles—being old, beautiful gardens, once upon a time being home to the Imperial Court. Oh, j/k lolz, Nijo Castle (or Nijo-jo, which is more fun to say) is pretty special. It's a flat castle, unlike Himeji-jo, and deceptively large. There are actually castle ruins within the castle, a moat and then a moat, and has several different gardens. It was built for the Tokugawa Shoguns in the 1600s, and held the Imperial Court for a time even after the capital was moved to Edo, now called Tokyo.

One of the most fun parts of this castle is its floors. I'd heard about the famous "nightingale floors" that squeak. Built to prevent sneaking around and assassins, the wood planks are supposed to sound like birds singing whenever pressure is applied. I thought it was bullshizzle. Sure maybe if one lone assassin was trying to creep around, it would sound like a bird. But hundreds of court members, or hundreds of tourists (especially those school kids with their heavy tread and their running)? Surely not.

Surely so. The floors never failed to sound like twittering songbirds. I was amazed and amused during our whole journey through the castle building. It's barely describable. How can a footstep sound like a bird? Only the Japanese know. Or maybe they got it from the Koreans, or the Chinese. Point being, they didn't have that in any of the European castles I visited. Japan: 1, France: 0

Hey look, a rock garden. Look at it.

Hannah and I spent the rest of our time in the castle wandering through the gardens. There's a western-style garden with a lawn that was landscaped in the 1960's, but the rest is very traditional Japanese. Cherry trees here, rocks there, plum trees there, all surrounded by gravel and impeccably maintained. The moat, however, looked radioactive.

The greener the moat water, the harder I think.

Hannah has always loved a good door.

We left Nijo at about 2 o'clock and were ready to eat. I had a sudden craving for the Nepalese food of Himalaya, a restaurant in the shopping heart of Kyoto. 210 yen took us to Shiyakushomae (City Hall Street) and we moseyed up to Kawaramachi street. Himalaya is very close to the subway exit on the 6th floor of a building. Hannah and I got in the elevator, pressed 6, and waited. Nothing happened. Was I wrong?

We pressed 5 and 4, which both worked. One led us to a spa, the other to the welfare center. 7 did not work. We went up, then down, up again, then down. We went to the spa floor, and a girl of about five years peeked at us from under a curtain in the spa. "Six?" Hannah said in English to the bug-eyed girl, holding up her fingers. "Six?" The doors shut to the sound of my laughter.

Finally I went into the Softbank store on the ground floor. "Uh, excuse me," I said to the girl behind the counter, "uh, elevator, six floor, can't do. Himalaya restaurant can't do. No go."

"Doesn't go?" the girl repeated.


"Ah," she nodded, "Two o'clock icrkjbflzsiug stop ljvkrfghluugsfaw does asiufahlsifuasiufh I think." She made an X with her hands, the Japanese sign for something that can't or shouldn't be done.

"Ah, I understand," I lied. "Thank you, sorry."

I went back outside and told Hannah that the restaurant might be closed during the afternoons. We took a look at the signboard for the store, and sure enough, we had arrived four minutes before closing time, probably twenty-four minutes after last lunch order. By the time we had figured this out, the restaurant had been closed for fifteen minutes. I was crushed. Cheesy naan, slipping through my grasp like a will-o'-the-wisp.

Still, I took this as an opportunity to introduce Hannah to Japanese fast food (which isn't really, since it has to be eaten with chopsticks). Sukiya is a cheap chain restaurant that serves donburi. Donburi is basically a bowl of rice topped with anything. It's a mushy comfort food that rarely fails to satisfy. Thankfully the waiter gave us an English menu, and I used my miniscule amount of menu kanji knowledge to clarify some of the odd English translations. For a mere 430 yen I stuffed myself full of rice, beef and vegetable mush, and cold kimchi (Korean spicy pickled cabbage, which kicks the crap out of sauerkraut).

After we had sated ourselves Hannah and I strolled down the street to Kazari-ya, a print shop whose owner lives upstairs and makes beautiful woodblock prints and paintings. I dropped 4000 yen there for Christmas presents (the people who received these things know). Hannah bought some souvenirs for her friends and family. We spent about an hour there, touching things and leafing through all the prints. The only shadow cast was a phone call from my supervisor, asking if I had a bird or a hamster. I immediately thought of the rabbit, whom I had left outside on the porch for the day. Had I been found out? Was I in trouble? I didn't know.

Hannah and I hauled our tired selves onto the train back to Nijo. Margaret called to tell me that yes, someone had seen something moving around on my back porch, but they thought it was a hamster. Pets were not allowed outside, not out of a cage, and not allowed to be larger than a guinea pig. Yikes.

Before we got back on the train to Kameoka I took Hannah to the Bivi building next to Nijo station. There's an arcade that features a large number of purikura booths. It's like taking pictures in a photo booth, but on bubblegum crack. The lighting there makes your skin pale and your eyes huge and limpid. You can choose settings in front of a green screen, how many pictures you want, and then you can choose your favorite pictures and decorate them with a plethora of graphics. You can send pictures to your phone and print tiny sticker pictures to attach to notebooks and phones and pencil cases. It's one of the most ridiculous activities for which I've ever paid 400 yen, but it's twenty minutes of good clean fun, all to the soundtrack of arcade music and technopop.

Despite our fatigue from hiking and walking all day, Hannah was game for two more activities: trying karaoke and tasting sake. I texted any of the ALTs who were in town (all save Kim-Chi) and Dara, and we planned to hit a nearby bar and then saunter over to the karaoke place attached to the pachinko/arcade/manga library. All within a mere seven minute's walk. Bless you, Kameoka.

Hannah and I met Paul, David, Margaret, Dara, Paulette, and Phil in front of Spread Bar. The bar wasn't open when we passed by at nine, which meant that the members of the group who are convinced that they can't relax enough to sing karaoke without alcohol were out of luck. Just kidding, you can order beer at any karaoke place. Blech.

My memory of this part of the night has faded a little with the passing months, but Paul, David and Hannah bonded over the music of ABBA, Phil reminded us of classics from our high school days, and Margaret did not sing into the microphone. I yelled along with Paulette during her Skid Row song, we all belted some Queen and the Fifth Dimension, then those of us familiar with French and/or Edith Piaf (sorry, Margaret) harmonized to "La Vie En Rose." It was dang good karaoke, and Hannah enjoyed it, so I claim success. Then those of us who were up for it visited the bar for a drink. Hannah and I each had a glass of chilled sake (refreshing, if not particularly suitable for my sweet tooth), we all gabbed, then went home. Good times, good times.

For those of you still keeping track for your upcoming visit to this fine country, one hour of Karaoke at a place that requires a membership card was 1020 yen, and a white wine glass of cold sake at Spread Bar cost 700 yen. Plan accordingly.

Friday, February 19, 2010

This, That and Stress

I haven't written in a while. I haven't wanted to write; I've felt I had nothing worthwhile to say since all of my projects are only half finished and most of my goals incomplete. February is one of the busiest months for everyone in Japan, right before the ends of the school year and working year in March. I've been doing more lesson planning and prep work for my schools than usual, and at night I work on the blasted Ganbatte Times website, go to an activity, come home and work more on the website, prepare for school, then go to bed. I feel like I'm juggling knives, but I never learned to juggle, so it's more like I'm throwing knives in the air and hoping I don't cut myself.

Despite the stress I have had some small successes, things that remind me that God is always good to me, even when I have to walk 30 minutes to the nearest train station while the wind sweeps over manure-filled fields to whip tears from my eyes. The first success was actually getting the website up. will someday be filled with content (if anyone ever sends me something. I haven't begged yet, but I'll start pretty soon) and I will figure out how to connect an RSS feed to the Flickr photo group. Other minor successes: I made cupcakes with Margaret on Sunday, and though I relinquished a few to the people in my life who deserved Valentines, the rest were delicious. I made stuffed peppers (more delicious than the yellow light makes them look), I've made it out of the house on time every day this week, I got off work early yesterday, and I sent a bunch of packages to folk in the U.S. I read children's books to three different classes, and today a child in a special needs classroom responded positively to the book No, David! Hearing her mimic my inflection when reading, "Come back here, David!" after a year and a half of watching her sit in silence with one hand covering her ear, makes the list of Most Rewarding Moments of my teaching career. Plus, it was dang cute.

In other news, I finally fixed the issue with the admittedly boring video of me and Hannah feeding the monkeys at Iwatayama Monkey Park, so the next installment in the Hannah Comes To Town series should be finished be Sunday. This is assuming, of course, that I don't die from Ganbatte Times-induced stress beforehand. My co-editor was on vacation and is now in the states for a funeral, so there's no blaming him.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Type A: I Gots the Influ

I save time by talking at the computer instead of typing, so that's what I did here. The video is small, so I apologize. It makes up for it with length, because I talk a lot.

In the meantime, I've decided that Google Sites is too ugly for my purposes, and that Wordpress will suffice for newsletter blogging. As you can see, I've already changed the appearance so that embedding it into the website will look decent. I'm still working on the ugliest website ever, so hurry up and tell me if it's a dumb idea, and I need to switch back to a more colorful blog template. I have the flu and am thinking less straight than usual!

The FLU!!!!!!