Saturday, April 12, 2008

My Food is Trying to Crawl Off My Plate, or, Chajiko to Ugokeru Wasyoku.

Did I mention that I bought an arrow? Sasaki-kun has declared me unfit for residence in Japan. Something to do with my brain having a meltdown or something and all my sense dribbling out of my ears.

But THIS is a SPECIAL arrow. See the five colours of silk? And the bell? And the paper wrapped around the shaft? This arrow is ready to do some serious demon-cleansing action.

...maybe Sasaki-kun is right.

Anyway, back to the food.

So...Sasaki-kun and I are, frankly, pretty darn experienced. We’ve lived with native families, had to solve complex problems of logistics in Japanese and have managed to make friends all over the country. We were NOT prepared, however, for the food that would be served to us here as part of our traditional and (high class) Japanese dinner. Granted, this is not the sort of food ANY everyday person would eat, indeed I doubt if even a small percentage of people ever really eat this stuff in their whole lives. Suffice it to say, however, that most of it had eyes.

And tentacles.

But the kicker--the kicker was the little roasting/steaming plates next to each of our dishes. The tops kept moving around oddly, and I thought it was the steam doing something strange, as both were lit and burning merrily.

So I lifted the lid and peered in.

Have you ever, I can’t think of a simile that will do it justice. It was grey/ and bulbous and slimy.

...and it was moving!!!

As I stared at it in horror, frozen, hoping beyond hope that what I was seeing was simply a trick of hot meat (whatever sort it may be) on a cooking plate, It was still alive, I realized.

“Cover it! Cover it back up!” Sasaki-kun shrieked, snapping me out of my paralysis. So I clapped the cover back down. It continued to move, back and forth...and eventually it stopped.

I don’t think I shall ever recover. The nice lady serving everything took it out of its shell and informed me very politely that it was a delicacy and everyone loved to eat it and said “Eat some and see!” So I had to. It was nasty. It didn’t taste like much but...but...OH THE SLIME!

So I couldn’t finish it. And Sasaki-kun ate a bite too because she felt bad for me.

Anyway, we sort of picked the edible parts out of dinner and ate the strawberries that were provided for dessert (to our intense relief) and ended up full. Then we both availed ourselves of the lovely hot mineral baths (my limit is about five minutes of soaking in hot water before I literally pass out) and are finally starting to feel a little relaxed. We are both travelstained, worn, paniced and BRUISED.

Now we are devouring Sakura manju--little pink buns filled with sweet red bean paste and a mild cherry flavour--and writing in our blog and journal respectively.

One last thing that I forgot to mention, and didn’t fit anywhere in the narrative above--never, ever try to take massive luggage on the bus up to Hakone. I ended up crammed into a seat with my knees tucked up to my ears, hanging on for dear life to two gigantic suitcases (one mine, one Sasaki’s) so that they didn’t go bouncing about the bus and killing people) with another bag under my feet and another about my neck which was slowly dragging me down, and seemed determined to make a pretzel out of me. All this with a demon-slaying arrow poking jauntily out of my pack.

My only solace is the fact that I am sure the rest of the bus was in near hysterics over the antics of the crazy gaijin. Even the other gaijin. Ah well, at least I gave someone a laugh, and at least they’re happier for it!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Sugo~ku Hen na Gaijin!

I am sitting in a Ryokan at the moment--of course, by the time any of you read this the moment will be long past, considering that there is no internet out here. And truthfully--I am grateful for that fact. Too much of my life is based around connectivity and the ability to talk to people and find out what I feel I need to know INSTANTLY. Here--surrounded by the sound of feathers and the quiet simplicity of Japanese lines, I suddenly realize how tired I am, and how little I actually hold still. I mean, I hold still quite a lot physically, but my mind is rarely quiet.

I perceive that I am wandering from the point of my narrative, however.

For those of you who are SO very uncultured as to be unaware of what Ryokan is, I will enlighten you. A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn. I mean, really traditional. They took our shoes away from us at the door and I have severe doubts about our ability to ever get them back. The attendants had sort of an air of finality as they directed us to the slippers--which were pink lined for the girls and set out specifically for “Sasaki-Sama” and her guest.
We were led to our room and shown the public baths--which Sasaki intends to force me into and which I intend to avoid at all costs, and then we sadly had to turn down a brief tea ceremony because we cannot drink green tea.

These rooms have tatami mats. And we’re sleeping on futon. And I’m wearing a kimono and tabi socks. Life doesn’t get any better. Well--I COULD be sitting here with an amazingly hot samurai and he could ALSO be in a kimono and some nice hakama, can only ask SO much out of life. This ryokan, though, is posh. I mean, we’re scruffy little ragamuffins as far as finances are concerned compared to the normal clientele. However, none of the rich gaijin (foreigners) who stay here bother to get themselves up in kimono, I am sure.

Sasaki is gorgeous in an embroidered cream coloured formal kimono, green obi and under-kimono, and I am rather stately in a light green butterfly-pattern kimono (not formal--more like everyday use) and orange obi. No underkimono for me, sadly. They ran out of colours. She looks like a princess. I feel like a samurai-ko that mistakenly wandered into the wrong house after being knocked over the head in battle.

Of course, that brings me to the last couple of days which I have not blogged because A)time got away from me and B)Blogger has refused to upload my pictures. This blog is NOTHING without my pictures! Anyway.

Have you ever been hit on by a twenty-something (or was he thirty-something?) Japanese man in gym shorts who thought the thumbs up was the ultimate in pick-up moves?

...don’t, if you can help it.

We bought the kimono we are wearing at a used kimono shop in Futamatagawa in Yokohama, which is just one stop away from where I used to live back when I was here for the homestay. We met my host mom again and went shopping--and Sasaki-kun became a life-sized doll. Dressed up, taken apart, turned about, clucked over, dressed again. At first she wasn’t so hot about all the colours of all the things that had been chosen for her, but in the end we prevailed and she left with the most stunning kimono and obi and things for about a hundred and sixty dollars. A STEAL. I tried one on too, as it is time for me to own a real silk one, and got out with paying only 120.00 dollars. These would have cost us easily into the 600-700 range new, without all the other stuff. Mine is quite old, and I’m sure my mother will want to hack it into pieces for the silk when I get home.

Iyada, mama-chan!

We did a great deal of shopping in Yokohama, as there’s not much else to see there that is of any notable age.

Sasaki and I wandered into Harajuku, the infamous shopping district of Tokyo. It was AWESOME. We found this Gothic/Sweet/Light Lolita store and the two of us almost lost our minds. Luckily they didn’t have a way for people to try stuff on, or else we would have walked out of there with clothing straight out of something like Tokyo Babylon. At any rate, it was SO crowded we could hardly move.
And if we hadn’t been trying to get to an insane used manga store (that didn’t turn out to be THAT great *grumble grumble*) we would have stuck around and (I’m sure) bought all SORTS of silly stuff.

I am so bad. If something’s newer than abut 250 years ago, I usually lose interest (unless it’s something built for shopping). Also if it’s too old. Stone age is not what I’m wanting here, nor are dinosaurs. There’s just that nice middle that I like to study.

At any rate, as of this morning we’ve been to the Embassy three times (curse them and their inefficiency) and will have to return at least once more before things are straightened out. Prayers would be MOST welcome that Sasaki-kun can find her passport and things before next thursday?

Meiji Jingu, Sankei-en. The Meiji shrine was built by (guess what) Emperor Meiji sometime in the last 150 years. Sankei-en was built in the early twentieth century and is a ramshackle mix of new buildings in the old style, new buildings built out of or around old parts, or old buildings that were actually transplanted there. Very odd and very beautiful.


Something which I have noticed coming back here that is really distressing to me is the amount of built-upness just EVERYWHERE in the Tokyo vicinity. In Sankein we climbed up next to the pagoda to the viewing platform and looked out--to an industrial nightmare. The bay, once wild and pristine, is lined with plants and factories all churning filth into the water and the air. Sasaki and I turned away, each saying that literally we were sick at heart over it.

Next, coming to Hakone, we had been promised an escape to nature and a giant change from the overcrowded subways of Tokyo etc etc...and what we got was a tourist hotspot, still with buildings all over the place. Instead of the beautiful remnants of the old Tokaido road, there are modern hotels and trains and busses and souvenier shops. Granted, the shops sell the local handicrafts (gorgeous wood inlays) but STILL. So, anyone who has ever seen a Miyazaki movie and picked up on the environmentalist overtones, this is what he is talking about. I have seen it, and it really is sickening. I can’t wait to get down to Kyoto where they have laws about how and where you can build something.

My heart yearns for the Japan that is long past--and the shreds of it can’t be found here, in the seat of modern progress.