Out of Town
A few weeks ago I went down to the city of Joyo, which is a little south of Kyoto, for a homestay programme which I entered into in an attempt to meet some Japanese people who would welcome me and take me into their house, let me meet their family, and all that. And they did. I ended up with a nice couple, man and wife. The man worked as a juku teacher, which are the cram schools that many students join after school and/or on the weekend, to further their studies in a particular area. So luckily, this meant he had a pretty good grasp of English, since he takes some kids for that. His wife's English wasn't so good, but she knew a bit of this and that, so we got along pretty well.
The bunch of us homestayers went to a temple for a bit of dancing in some festival first, where we met our families. That little demostration made the papers with all the gaijin dancing around in robes waving fans about. After staying at their house the night (in their sons room, who was out of town, but apparently a huge fan of anime, and especially those figures of girls who seem to have found themselves in unfortunate postitions just as the sculptor turns up. That and Doraemon), we went out to look around Joyo and Uji. It was pretty cool. I went to the Museum of the Tale of Genji, which is an famous old Japanese tale, the last few chapters of which take place in Uji. So there were all these old bits and pieces of classical Japanese culture to look at (I tried to check out the Tale of Genji later at the library, but it's about 300 volumes of the hardest and smallest kanji you'll ever see, so I'll give it a little while before I start to tackle that). Also went to a bunch of other places, like the famous Uji bridge, a sake museum (where I saw proof that sex has always sold. Check out this babe),
a famous temple with a massive Buddha which is actually on the back of the 10-yen coin,
and a sushi bar where I ate some funky looking squid things.
Also saw a traditional Shinto Wedding,
and went to my first real tea ceremony, in a nice little tea house where the tea is all prepared before you in a whole proper ritual.
All in all it was cool to finally meet some Japanese people who could actually show me around a bit of this country, since nobody at my work seems interested.
Then a couple of weekends ago I took off with a JET from another nearby town to visit Osaka! This is like Kyoto's big brother. Or sister, if you're a feminist, and like to make a big deal out of those sorts of things. It took about 40 minutes on the super-express train (not shinkansen) from Kyoto City (those usually cost more, but somehow we manages to avoid the fare both ways. Rapt.) and is way bigger. We could even tell that without knowing Kyoto all that well. Near the station is a huge Ferris wheel type thing which revolves slowly so you can see all the city spread out in every direction. And although it was actually boring as hell to look at, you definitely noticed its size.
And maybe at night, it would look much nicer. Who knows.
The Midosuji Parade was on that day, so we went to see it.
The description of the theme of the parade was "Celebration!" or some other redundant term, so I don't really quite know what it was all about, but I can tell you it was looooooong. 60 groups went by, and it took just over three hours for them all to pass. I saw more brass bands and marching groups than I cared to. I guess every school in the Osaka region was allowed to participate, as well as every government agency. But there were definitely some cool looking things. I'll stick some photos in the Gallery. Unfortunately we had a pretty ratshit spot, since the street they go down is lined with trees just itching to get in the way, so I don't have that many good ones. There were representatives from all over the world, as well as a fair supply of uniquely Japanese-looking weird things.
A Japanese guy came up to me, as the only white male in the entire city, and asked me for an interview for TV. But I think he realised my Japanese perhaps wasn't as hot as he would have liked after all, because after promising to be back real soon with his crew, he disappeared and never came back. I saw them all hanging out on the other side of the road for a while, till they saw me looking and took off. By the time it was over the day was almost gone, so the decision was made to stay in Osaka the night.
We'd heard (at least, my friend had) of these things called "capsule inns" for businessmen who missed their train and all that. So we figured we sould check em out. It was weird. It was like being in one of those submarine movies, where everyone is in those little cubbyholes that look like a morgue. Those were the "capsules". Mens and womens floors were separate, so you just went to your floor, hoisted yourself up, slid in, and stayed there till morning. Except it was actually really cool! There was a locker to store your stuff (which was a huge selling point since I had a bunch of stuff I just wanted to get rid off), as well as containing a towel and a yukata to wear to bed; and there was a shower with industrial-size bottles of shampoo and liquid soap. So after dropping my stuff off and then hitting the town again for a few drinks (meeting a weird post-op trannie who ran one of the bars and who had a voice that in no way matched their body), we returned back to the inn and went to bed. And inside your capsule was a little TV and a little radio! And a little light. Only somebody else on my floor left their radio on when they passed out. After deciding I couldn't take it anymore, I went and tried to wake him by punching his feet which were sticking out the end of their capsule. I got no response so had to climb into the capsule alongside him, worm my way down and reach over him to switch it off myself. He stopped snoring and I froze, but then he carried on so I quietly slipped back out of the capsule and into my own for a peaceful night's sleep.
The next day, after a pleasant complimentary egg, toast and coffee, we headed out to do a little shopping. I grabbed some beautifully terrible examples of Japlish on shirts, along with an electronic dictionary (finally), before catching the rapid train back to Kyoto (and freaking out at thinking I'd just spent 30 grand on an English-Chinese dictionary), and then heading back to home (where I had my first taiko lesson! Yes.)
By the way, check out this weird pic I saw on the wall of a random alley in Joyo. What do you make of it??