March 10 - Konnichiwa Japan!

I arrived at Narita airport in Tokyo and spent a couple of hours waiting for Ayhan's plane to arrive. When I arrived, I took a trip to the washroom in the baggage claim area and it brought back the memories of how crazy the Japanese are. The doors open like you're on the Enterprise. Then when I got in, I could swear that the room was moving. I think that instead of having a little lock that would switch the room sign to "occupied", they put the whole room on a weight sensor. Each step I took felt like I was going to tip the room over. And on the toilet, there were the typical 5 or 6 buttons, each spraying water at a different part of the body--those crazy Japanese and their toilets....

Ayhan arrived tired from the plane ride because he had just spent 16 grueling hours not quite able to doze off because a fat guy sitting in the next seat was bumping and nudging him all throughout the flight. Poor guy didn't get any sleep.

But after navigating the countless train and subway lines, we finally made it to Warren and Noriko's home near Ichigaya. I must say that I forgot how confusing the train system in Tokyo is. There are different companies operating different lines, express trains that don't stop at all the stops, different fares depending on how far you go, and a separate subway system from the train system. And then you have the Japanese thing and bustling crowds to contend with at the same time. I really get a rush out of trying to navigate their train system, but after a long day hauling our luggage, it was probably one of the last things that I wanted to do.


March 11 - Ashita Ga Aru (There's Always Tomorrow)

We started the day with a quick trip up the Metropolitan Government building. It was a bit of a disappointment once we got to the top to get a view of Tokyo. It's definitely does not have bird's eye appeal of Paris. Tokyo is really more of a close-up type city.

We did some shopping in around Shinjuku station, probably the largest friggin subway station in the world! We went to a small alleyway beside Odakyu with a couple of great shops and bought some cloth panels with beautiful Japanese motifs--they will look great once we frame them. We also went into the depachika or food hall in the Keio department store--a great place to spend some time (and money!). Now I still can't quite understand the CDN$100 cantaloupes--even if they did look perfect.

We also went to my favourite area during my last trip to Tokyo--Shibuya. At Shibuya station, I told Ayhan the story about Hachiko, the dog who loyally waited at the subway station for his master for 11 years after the master had died one day at work and didn't come home. Ayhan was touched by the story and insisted that I take a picture of them together. The Hachiko statue was also one of the waypoints in one of my favourite shows, Amazing Race!

We joined a few other friends at a karaoke bar, and had a great time singing such old time favourites as For The Longest Time, Summer of 69, and Ashita Ga Aru. Visions of Warren singing a poppy Japanese song while slapping a tambourine against his ass will probably haunt me forever.

And how did we end the day? With a quick trip to a purikura or "picture club" booth. Normally reserved for giggly teenage Japanese girls, tonight it was a final cap to a great day--as all seven of us squeezed ourselves into a small pictureframe. Ayhan and I were quite shocked as the Japanese girls that were with us proceeded to completely deface our fantastic pictures with goofy masks and moustaches and clown noses, etc. etc. Warren assured us that this would not be "the real thing" unless this ritual defacing was done--including all the teenage giggling. Ayhan and I just looked at eachother and shook our heads--only in Japan.


March 13 - Ayhan's Day in the Park

While I was working, Ayhan spent a few days wandering around Tokyo. He went to the zoo in Ueno Park and seemed to have a great time looking at the different animals.

He told me about the behaviour of this secretary bird who seemed to be angrily trying to peck his way out of the cage. I'm glad for Ayhan's sake, that the escape plan didn't work--look at the beak on that thing!


March 14 - Ninja

We had a great dinner at an interesting restaurant called Ninja. We were brought to our tables by a white girl from France who was dressed as a ninja--we felt a bit jilted, but she did a good job of navigating the tunnels to reach the ninja hideout.

The food was imaginative and generally delicious. They were all small portions but were presented creatively (some were sitting on small planks of driftwood). My favourite was the vegetable hot pot--with a few choice veggies sitting on hot black stones and a billow of bubbling dry ice smoke. They also had a magician show right at our table! (...although, "Jester n' Jeff" is much better.)

The bill was a bit expensive but it was a good way to end our time in Tokyo and thank our hosts. Thanks Warren and Noriko for your hospitality! And I loved their Jan Ken Poi / Aiko De Sho / Acchi Muite Hoi game (Japanese rock, paper, scissors). Kawaiiiii!


March 15 - Fast Trains and Dwarf Geishas

I always thought it was interesting that Kyoto has the same letters as Tokyo but just in a different order. But it does really seem fitting--they both have a different mix of the same Japanese ingredients but Tokyo has a capital "T" for technology, tall hair, and tricky trains. Kyoto has a "K" for....well Kyoto. I was trying to think of applicable words that begin with a K, but I can't. Kyoto definitely has the traditional flavour with its temples and gardens.

To get to Kyoto, we travelled by shinkansen--the superfast trains linking Japan coast to coast. They go up to 300 km / hour and you can really see Japan whizzing by. If Canada had these, we could get from Toronto to Montreal in 1 hour and 40 minutes. But the best we can do now is 4 hours.

After stopping at our hotel, the Kyoto Tokyu Hotel, we went directly to Gion to score some tickets for the nightly show. Now the show featured different traditonal Japanese arts. I really enjoyed the banraku puppet show and the koto Japanese harp music--in Ayhan's words, they were very elegant. The gagaku "court music" part of the show was almost unbearable, it sounded like the first time I picked up a recorder as a child and randomly blew some off-key notes--no wonder this art died out in China!

Now one of the main reasons that I wanted to take Ayhan to this show was that he was so enraptured by the geisha show scene in Memoirs of a Geisha. Gion Corner was the place that I found when I searched the internet. Well....we ended up getting "short changed", so to speak. Ayhan whispered "is that a child or a dwarf?" during the geisha dance--I couldn't tell.

After the show, we did the touristy tea ceremony. It was fun as we learned to bow a few times, spin a bowl a few times, wipe it a few times, and that's even before the tea is opened! haha. Ayhan, coming from a tea culture, was probably not a fan of all this ceremony for a cup of tea and was totally bewildered by the concept that the host would pour tea for the guest without drinking any themselves. "This would never happen in Turkey!"


March 16 - By the Torii Gates

We took a trip to the Fushimi Inari shrine. Path after path of torii gates. It was neat!

We also did some shopping at the Kyoto Handicraft Center which I was a bit wary about since I thought it would be a big tourist trap. Well, it probably was a tourist trap, but the stuff they had was really nice. I picked up a couple of cute kokeshi dolls for my nieces.

And I finally had some time to update my blog!


March 17 - My Dear with the Deer

I warned Ayhan that he should be careful around the deer of Nara because they can get pretty aggresive when there are deer biscuits involved. But he didn't really believe me and found a really cute fawn that he quickly named "Bambi". So we got a few biscuits and he proceeded to feed his newfound friend. Within a few seconds, he was surrounded by deer, grabbing the biscuits out of his hand and nipping at his jacket and pants. "Leave me and Bambi alone!" Ayhan shouted to the others. I laughed because I remembered the last time I was in Nara and the exact same thing happened to me.

We skirted the big bronze buddha at Todaiji and were lucky enough to see the sakura that had bloomed early beside the temple.

We ended our trip in Japan with an absolutely great shabu shabu meal in Gion. We both loved it, dipping the thinly sliced fatty Japanese beef into a boiling hot pot of different vegetables (enoki mushrooms, cabbage, shitake mushrooms, tofu, etc.). As we cooked the beef we would say "shabu shabu....shabu shabu" which roughly translates to "swish swish". Then we dipped the cooked stuff into a slightly sour ponzu sauce. Yum! And the delicious homemade umeshu (plum wine) was a good way to say our final "Kanpai!".