Monday, April 16, 2012

The Japan Trip - Day 01-02

The first (and second) day of the rest of my life.

I have to first make it clear that I do not have notes for days one and two of this travelogue, so I am forced to remember all that I can based on photos I have.

As I recall there is not much to be said about Day 1. We got on the plane with the usual farewells and my parents worrying like the worriers they are, and that was it. We had a quick meal at the local Burger King, and I remember I watched Wall-E again on the flight to Hong Kong, which neither Xi Min nor JX had watched before. I still don't understand why they'd rather watch my screen instead of plugging in themselves, but that's one of the mysteries of human nature I'm never going to find out.

I wanted to wander around Hong Kong International a bit but our transfer time was short and it was three am in the morning anyway and nothing much was open. We managed to find the connecting flight gate, thankfully. HKI has a very interesting system, where each gate is both an arrival and departure gate, split onto two floors (arrival ramps on first floor and departure ramps on second). It's quite confusing at first, but we managed.

I slept a lot on the second flight.

A lot of people don't like in-flight food. I don't understand why. I don't think it could be called five-star gourmet, but it's hot and at the very least it's edible and you can't spend fifteen minutes worrying over the menu when there's only two choices. The only thing I don't like about eating a few kilometres in the air is the fact that there's not enough space to use your utensils properly. But that said, Cathay Pacific has really nice food, and I was happy with the free ice cream too, that's always a nice touch.

Day 2 was equally uneventful, for the most part. We got our rail passes and got on our train (I kept the seat tickets for souvenirs) and basically trundled along all the way to Hiroshima. I remember lamenting the fact that I never got to sit next to any cute Japanese girls, and as I wandered along the carriages, I noticed that the train-riding demographic doesn't cater to the cute Japanese female (at least, not at the times we took the trains). There's retirees travelling on holiday or visiting other cities, and a lot of businessmen travelling for work; an odd foreigner scattered here and there, but a distinct absence of cute girl.

I have to say one thing about the Japan inter-city rail though: it's fast, and efficient, and a joy to ride. (Okay, three things.) Like I told Xi Min at the end of the trip, I much prefer trains to planes, because of all the space, which, granted, doesn't not come cheap on an airline. And, I dunno, but there's something just intrinsically romantic about trains. What I didn't get to see was a diner car, and I really wanted to see one because I've read about it before and what could be cooler than a restaurant on rails? Snacks on a Train? (-rimshot-)

The only way to travel.

We did manage to buy a bento box at our first stop though, and it was delicious even though it's basically good Japanese food left to cool. I promised myself I would eat everything on my plate in Japan, since it would be impolite and waste not to, so I ate everything, even the small plum-like thing which I couldn't identify (it was yellow, and not the normal sour plum that I've come to know).

We met up with Bryan at Hiroshima about half an hour before we were supposed to meet our host family, the Hikidas. Bryan was hovering outside McDonalds wearing his Captain America shirt and a vague grin which said, "I'm loitering outside here for free coffee." And he was.

We manage to bump into Yumiko-san and Aki-san at the south exit, I think it was. I remember that it was really awkward because I didn't know what to say, especially in Japanese because that's what they spoke best. Yumiko-san has the best English, not amazing but good enough to communicate, and I was walking with Aki-san and I remember him asking me if I liked or watched anime. We walked mostly in silence to their car, which was a huge SUV and I remember thinking, wow, that's a huge car for a priest.

They drove us to the temple and made small talk, which I remember involved asking us if we drank, and about how we liked it in Japan so far, and plans for the next day. I remember Xi Min talking the most because he had the most Japanese, and could translate for us. They were very impressed with Xi Min's level of Japanese.

My first thought when we pulled up at the temple was, wow, that's a huge temple for a priest.

It's almost as big as a monastery.

And then they showed us to our rooms, which was actually a guest house situated a litte way behind the temple, opposite the cemetery and next to the gardener's work area and tool sheds. It was guarded by an adorable dog who they named Benny (or Benni), which I never understood because as far as I knew, she was a bit- a female.

Benni! Soooo adorable.
The rooms were decorated in the style of a mild, not really there yet, just-got-up-the-ladder-and-put-his-legs-on-the-slide One Piece otaku, and I think they just used those because it's one of the biggest anime is Japan, and probably the world. It was homely, though, and had an attached dining room and kitchen.


Floor mats.

Pillow cases.

Seat cushions.


I remember they hooked up a Playstation 2 (and again, that's a huge gaming platform for a priest) and a couple of games, one of which was some soccer game and the other was this hack-and-slash called Fist of the North Star, with violent kung-fu action and gratituous clothing damage.

Wow, they have everything!

They let us settle in, then brought us to a small family restaurant which I assume they patronise frequently, seeing as they seemed to know the owners personally and kept laughing and joking with them. On that first night, they basically piled on the food, introducing us to almost all of Japanese cuisine, including, but not limited to: sandwiches, sashimi, Japanese curry, salad, oysters, natto (fermented soy beans), sour plum, non-alcoholic beer, and of course a lot of alcohol. They were very hospitable, and it seemed to us that they really pulled out all the stops to make us feel welcome. We would later chalk this up to Asian hospitality, but still it was very culture-shocking to a few of them (Xi Min and JX in particular).

From left to right: Yumiko-san, Kenta-san, Aki-san, Ren-san, Bryan Xi Min Jian Xiang Me, Aiko-san

Aki-san and Ren-san, the two brothers, later brought us to the nearby convenience store (combini, in local parlance) and offered to pay for anything we wanted. Of course, we didn't want to impose, so we decided to get some small items and come back the next day by ourselves if necessary. There wasn't much else that day besides some planning and chatting, and then we all went to bed.

*All pictures in this post courtesy of Bryan.

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