Saturday, August 23, 2008

early to rise, late to bed...

so for my 2nd day in japan i was up at the crack of dawn. actually, i think it wasn't even dawn yet, it was yoji - four oclock. after a quick train ride to fukuoka, i met masami at the exit of hakata train station, and we went to starbucks. i know, i know, i came all the way to japan and we went to starbucks? well it wasn't my idea, first of all, and i was actually quite grateful to drink coffee that didn't come from a can.
next, we took the subway to my hotel so i could drop off the big ruck sack and we picked up masami's car and went to the fukuoka city museum. i learned a bunch about the history of the area. then we walked around in the momochi beach area and had cold udon for lunch, yum! while we walked back to the car, we stopped by this place called robot-square, with you guessed it, robots! awesome robots. the featured robots respond to human touch, there was that baby seal they use for robot therapy with the elderly and a tiny dinosaur that would have been my ultimate dream toy when i was about 8 or 9.
did you know that in japan, there are 4 vending machines per 100 people, and in urban areas, it's 4 vending machines per 30 people? you can get lots of stuff, but mostly i see drinks. coke, beer, coffee, juice and some sports drink called "sweat." yum.
after this walking and having been up forever, i took a bit of a rest at my hotel. i have a japanese-style room again with tatami mats and futon. soooo comfy! however, i will need to get used to the smell of tatami mats. it smells like wet hay. you can imagine with heat and humidity this can become a little unpleasant. i opened the window and it was ok.
after my little nap, we went to a gallery i had found on the internet that was featuring a young japanese photographer, the exhibit was called arakitakashidelic print. the photos reminded me a bit of the toronto aesthetic. there, we also found out about another photography show happening in a gallery called artium in a mall called inter-media-station, or IMS. this is in the "cool" area of fukuoka called Tenjin. i really really loved this exhibit. the photographer is a young woman named Ume Kayo, the show was called Super shutter chance and featured her 93 year old grandfather. after this, we continued to walk through the malls and shops, and i would have spent tons of money on some really neat things, but i figure i just got here and i don't want to be hauling around souvenirs for the rest of my trip.
masami was really excited to bring me to "her" izakaya, a japanese pub, which is her 2nd family. the owners and the regulars had all heard about the canadian friend that was coming to visit and were very happy to meet me. i was also happy to meet more people and practice my smattering of japanese phrases and nouns. i had explained to masami that normally i don't eat meat but that i would eat fish on this trip. so, i ate a bunch of sashimi, there was raw tuna and several other fish that don't have familiar names. everyone wanted me to try their beer, their sake or their shochu (same as korean soju, and pretty much the same as vodka). a japanese couple arrived and were surprised to see a foreigner but the lady had pretty good english and chatted with me a bit. they wanted to give me a bit of each of their dishes to try and i had some potatoes gratin (?!?) and some konagi (spelling?) which is a dried and salted sand eel. yup, i ate sand eel. i started at the tail but i didn't eat the head. i was being polite and tried everything that was given to me. all the sashimi was very delicious - totemo oishi! especially the mackerel and the citrus-marinated tuna. when the pub owner/cook saw my whale tattoo on my leg, he offered me a piece of whale meet. i had to politely decline. sorry, i may eat sand eel, but not whale.
i was a bit worried about how my stomach would handle all of this fish all of a sudden, but it seems to have been ok. i think it was the shochu, sake and beer that gave me a bit of a headache this morning. everyone at the izakaya was super nice and masami's dad was there. he was shy but said hello and everything. masami and i were the last to leave, and we discovered that her dad had covered our bill, how nice!!
so i was a bit drunk and very tired when i got to my hotel at 1:30 in the morning, but all the better as i hoped this would help me sleep a bit later. in fact, i managed to sleep until about 7:30. i had the hotel breakfast of white bread toast with butter and jam and hot coffee. not bad at all. oh, did i say the shower was tiny even for me? i kept banging my elbows on the walls and stuff.
so now i am just writing and waiting for masami. plans today include visiting the dazaifu shrine and the asian art museum. wee!

first day in japan

well, it was an adventurous first 24 hours in the land of the rising sun (or, as masami explained to me, it's the land from which the sun rises).
i went through customs no problem, all foreigners are photographed and finger-printed. a bit paranoid, but whatever. I went to the train station at the airport to exchange my voucher for the foreigner train pass, which was a breeze, until i told the girls that i was planning on getting to Fukuoka that night. they looked at each other and i think they were trying not to laugh. they explained that either all the trains had left or were full. bummer. so i couldn't get to where i was going until the next day. i took the train to Osaka, and bought a couple of phone cards to try and call my hotel in fukuoka to cancel. i could not figure out the phones! at last i got a hold of masami and asked her if she could call my hotel to let them know i wouldn't make it, and called the hostel in osaka, near the train station and they had a bed left for me. wee! crisis averted.
the hostel in osaka, called shin-osaka youth hostel, was very clean and nice. there is a bath but i was too chicken to use it. there were detailed rules with pictures and everything but i was still afraid to mess up. meg says it's very complicated for something that is supposed to be relaxing. i went for the western-style shower. however, my bed was a japanese-style futon on a tatami mat with a buckwheat pillow. this was very comfortable. however due to jet-lag my sleep was confused and i woke up at 4 am. this would have been 4 pm back in canada.
i got my things ready in the dark and tried to leave. ha, they block the elevator and the stairs until 6 am, which is check out time. my shinkansen was at 6 am. luckily one of the staff arrived a bit early and let me out.
the shinkansen ride was very beautiful. the japanese countryside is exactly what you'd picture, steep hills that are lush and green with rice paddies in the valleys.
i will write more about fukuoka later, right now i am starving and i'm going to eat some of this hotel breakfast.