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Archive for October, 2006

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17
Oct

Kyoto Part 2 of 6: The Road

I woke up to the bright sunlight of a glorious Tokyo Saturday morning. It was the weather that manages to find your doorstep just once every other week this time of year but is well worth the wait. It was before 8am so I lazily sauntered around my apartment, making breakfast, packing a lunch and scratching what needed to be scratched.

I ordered the apartment, locked her up to be empty for the next four days, and walked the 15 minutes to the Jiyugaoka train station. Ten weeks ago on the third day I was in Tokyo, I had some trouble finding my way to and home from Shinjuku, the busiest train station in the world. If you saw my first episode in Japan, you know that. Shinjuku was my destination, but on this day, there was no trouble. I knew it was easy then, I proved it was easy on Saturday.

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17
Oct

Kyoto Part 1 of 6: The Plans

There are 15 national holidays in Japan. Last Monday was Taiiku No Hi, or Health and Sports Day, to commemorate the opening day of the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. It was an important day to many Japanese, a sign that their country had recovered from the destruction of World War II. To me, the day was motivation, not reflection. You see, the undergraduate program at my school took Tuesday off as well. This meant a four day weekend and therefore necessitated something particularly exciting to continue my devotion to travel at each week’s end. I have not failed you.

In my first two and half months in Japan, I have had a great deal of difficulty getting out of metropolitan Tokyo. About this I have lamented before. I went to Yokohama, supposedly the country’s second largest city, but the Japanese laughed at this. I went to Kamakura, a former Japanese capital, but they told me no. I have been to Shibuya and Shinjuku, with populations and infrastructures and even histories that made them capable of being large cities on their own, but, they suffered the same fate at Kichijoji, where I watched a fall festival.

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13
Oct

Leaving for Kyoto

Well, I have been granted a long weekend. Monday is one of Japan’s many and varied national holidays, Taiiku no Hi or Sports Day, and undergraduates at my school were given Tuesday off. What does this mean? It means a four day weekend. It means I gotta run.

So, I am heading to Kyoto, the historical imperial capital of Japan with 1,800 temples and hundreds of shrines. It is widely recognized for maintaining some traditional Japanese urban life, with ancient buildings and legendary sights.

To get there, I have to make it to a bus station near Shinjuku, the WORLD’S busiest train station (remember my Fuji experience?) Saturday morning to take an 8 hour bus trip southwest to the Kansai prefecture, and more specifically, Japan’s seventh largest city, Kyoto.

I am spending three nights there. On this whim I managed to book a cheap hostel for two nights. Let me say that again, I’ll get to Kyoto Saturday night and don’t have a place to stay until Sunday night. THERE IS NO WAY THIS CAN’T WORK OUT!

Get ready for some great photos and plenty of stories. I’ll get back to you next week, wish me luck. A lot of luck.

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12
Oct

Mitakesan Buddhist monastary

From a train to a bus to a tram car up a steep mountain incline, into a ramshackle wooden home set back off a dirt path, sat the Tendai Buddhist monastery that I would be staying the weekend.

Combining Shinto and Buddhist tenets, I ate well, relaxed, practiced concentration sessions with another five guests, all of whom were Japanese men, and, on the final morning, put on a very light robe and followed two priests and the five other guests without much understanding of where we were going.

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12
Oct

My Bicycle’s Name

I had asked for your suggestions on a name for my bicycle. The suggestions came slowly and uninspiredly. Perhaps that is because I have three and a half readers.

But, as democracy must do, I will plow on, with enough votes cast or not.

The finalists for my bicycle’s name, chosen from reader suggestions, are as follows:
1. Ethel – “bikes should be named after old women”
2. Handle Bars and Stripes “it’s clever and overly patriotic – like you”
3. Uncle Sam – “it can be nicely shortened but loves the USA”
4. The Widowmaker – “the bike sounds dangerous”
5. Bearcat – “if you ride anything, it better be ferocious”
6. Newton – “when I hear the name, I think genius (Isaac) and pride (your hometown)”

Please, cast your votes for the final decision. …And by cast your votes, I mean post a comment, let me know what you’re thinking. All I know is that if I am going to ride this bicycle, I need to have a name so I can stop using article and noun, the format of ‘the bicycle,’ gets old.

Alright, let me know.

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12
Oct

Home

Home is one of those countless abstract ideals for which, I tend to think, we over search. In the pursuit of its understanding, we push the explanation further and ignore its reality longer.

I apologize. Travel forces me to think in these irrepressible circles.

Usually it takes a bit longer, but here I am, in Tokyo just under two months, and nihilism has never seemed any less sensible to me than now. Hurl “social construct” or “comforting illusion” or whatever other accusatory psychoanalyzing garbage you know, but there is nothing I like more about travel than that first appreciating, comforting glance of home again. The first glance of the meaningful protection of the abstract.

It doesn’t need to be any stay of extension. Wherever our comfort prospers and our resistance fails, this home is a sight of cleansing alleviation.

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11
Oct

Capsule Hotel

There is nothing vicarious about this entry. I did not sleep in my apartment last night. There is nothing explicit about this entry. I slept in someone else’s bed. Nothing inappropriate.

Rather, I simply got the chance to check off-completed something else I promised myself I would do while in Japan. A few hours’ bicycle ride from home, I walked through a sliding door, handed over 4,000 yen ($34 USD) and rented my very first capsule hotel room.

Its name may be enough for you to know what I mean. For others, you still may be waiting for me to clue you into what a capsule hotel is. You’ll have to wait. Follow the chronology.

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9
Oct

Tokyo Feeling

As I grapple to find a place of comfort and habit here in the land of rising sun, I am becoming aware enough to observe the megalopolis that is around me. Hit with so much new, my thoughts blur and my ideas jump, thrashing in my head without any uniting thread other than their home in Japan

It appears Tokyo seems to support a class of elderly men who, in a country that doesn’t accept gratuity, must get their supplemental compensation from nods, smiles and the occasional bow from an overanxious foreigner or particularly formal Japanese man. I’m not entirely certain who is giving them their uniforms, assuming they are, indeed, being paid. Still, there they are, directing traffic unnecessarily and guiding navigators of tight Tokyo parking lots and standing guard at buildings that don’t seem to need guarding. They mumble garbled Japanese in sing-song voices, further muffled by their crooked-teeth smiles and craggy, time-worn skin.

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6
Oct

The Window

It is typhoon season. It rains long and often here in Tokyo. Today it was particularly stormy. This morning I woke up and found that the world outside was wet. It was steady and it was hard, but I wouldn’t take the bus. I couldn’t take the bus. I am stubborn. I didn’t want to spend the 400 yen. I didn’t want to miss the exercise. I didn’t want to feel lazy. More importantly though, I said, as I often say to myself when trying to do something that seems outrageous or pointless, it was an opportunity to do something different. To ride in a typhoon. I looked out the window and saw nothing but water.

I rode the bus for a month. You can never go wrong when you do something new, if you do that something new just once. So, I took my Japanese umbrella and some spare clothes in a plastic bag stuffed in my school backpack. Things seem safer from the window.

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6
Oct

Japan Part 3 of 3: International

The stunning conclusion of my very brief rundown of Japan ends with a global perspective. I’ve kept it short, but, if you’re looking for the lurid details of an intimate encounter, feel free to skip this entry.

Japan. What do we think about it in the U.S.? Technologically advanced, or at least that is all I really knew about it previous to pre-departure research.

Based on its technological pursuits, which was founded on an intensive pursuit of a niche in the world during the 1950s, post-American occupation, Japan experienced unprecedented economic growth through the early 1990s. Then it all went to crap, if only briefly.

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