December 23, 2009
Japan Trip Day 13: Fukuoka/Hakata to Kyoto
I got up this morning and Yohei (one of the hostel workers, great dude) made me a really awesome breakfast and we chatted while I scarfed it down. I like how Japanese toast is so tall! All the people running this hostel are so nice and helpful. One of the girls there was super cute and kept saying, "Oh... SUGOI!" at pretty much everything I said. It was hilarious. I taught them the phrase "sick" and "sweet", and said they basically both mean "sugoi" (to which the same girl said, "ohhhh, SUGGOIII!" haha.) In one of the funniest moments of my entire Japanese adventure, Yohei said, "Hmm... 'Sweet.' Is it Canadian dialect?" Oh MAN. That was just too funny, everyone thought I was speaking some specific dialect of English as they hadn't heard these words before. It was brilliant. I laughed so hard and said it wasn't a Canadian dialect, it was more like a "Mike-san dialect" :)
I wandered to Canal City shopping center for the morning. There was an amazing "kids floor" with a Totoro store, Pokemon and Hello Kitty etc. I bought a bunch of gifts there for friends, family and myself. Awesome clothing stores there too - there was a neat Onitsuka Tiger shoe store with some Japanese exclusive sneakers. SICK. But everything was $200+ so maybe on another trip. :) I looked for some funny Engrish shirts but didn't see much. I also saw the famed New Balance "Rainbow Running" shoes that I'd seen in Tokyo, and almost bought them. They are so crazy that I decided not to, but I might go buy them in Osaka. There was a Disney store that was pretty similar to the one I'd seen in Tokyo.
And then... Namitatsu!!!!!!! I ran into this amazing Japanese Surf Store (from Okinawa, I think). (Quote from an online website: "Namitatsu, which translates to "wave master," is a line of t-shirts and sneakers featuring modern interpretations of traditional Japanese imagery."). I had been trying hard to find this kind of store. It's old style Japanese art, but with surfboards! Eg: I saw that familiar Japanese wave painting there, but there is a samurai surfing on it. :) Very cool. I got a hilarious pair of Boxer Briefs with a Samurai holding a surfboard and beating up an octopus on it. Amazing. Also I bought the coolest hoodie with cherry blossoms up the one side, a cool Zen phrase and a surfing samurai on the back.
Then it was lunchtime, I went to a sushi boat place which the people beside me called a "Sushi Belt". It was SO good. I had some unusual stuff like a canned corn sushi roll, as well as the tried-and-true favourites, tuna, salmon and egg. I got a little dessert too. I love when dessert comes along on the sushi trains in restaurants, it always looks so out of place when everything else on the train is either the tried-and-true tuna or salmon, or some tentacle-y kind of fish/unexplained (and certainly unkosher) seafood. :) There was also hot water and green tea (matcha) powder to make your own green tea. The Japanese couple beside me explained to me how to do it without burning myself, which was very kind of them!
From there I went back to the hostel and everyone came outside to say goodbye. At this point I was really very happy that I came to Fukuoka. It was an extra schlep from Hiroshima and I was quite tired from a lot of running around over the past few nights, but for the people, it was totally worth it. Everyone waved to me as I left, and I couldn't help but feel sad to leave the people I'd just met the night before. What a kind and welcoming group of people! As I was getting closer to the train station, I heard a "Mike-san!" come from behind me. It was the "SUGOI" girl from the hostel, biking to the mall as I lugged my stuff to the train station. It was nice to see someone again from the hostel and we hugged goodbye. Just before jumping on the train, I looked into some stores to looked at prayer beads for Frank. The guy looked very nervous given the breakables he had in his store and the size of my backpacks. I took off then to the train station, from Fukuoka to Shin-Osaka and then to Kyoto.
As I stood up to organize my stuff... guess who?!! Marissa and Alyssa!!!!!! (Note to the reader: I'm writing up these journal entries a few months after my trip, from notes I took while I was there. It's really funny here in my notes, they are in point-form and it says "Stood up and guess who?! Marissa and Alyssa. Love them.") :) I was SO excited. It was so funny and so unexpected to see them, so weird that we'd be on the same train too. These were my friends "The Canadians" (actually from Michigan) from a couple nights before in Hiroshima. We switched seats so we could chat, swiveling the seats around. I only had about (well, it's Japan, so not "about", more like "exactly") 14 minutes to chat, since the trip from Shin-Osaka to Kyoto was very fast. It was very nice to see them, to catch up on the last few days, and to see a familiar face in the thousands and thousands of strangers running around at the train station every day. We bid farewell and off I went to the next place! I trekked through the 2 subway stations in Kyoto and up a bunch of stairs, my bag is definitely getting heavier. :)
The directions I had from the hostel's website were either super unclear, or else I was just really exhausted. This was the kind of time I would have loved to just get right to the hostel and relax, but man, I messed up the directions. I ended up walking for at least an extra 30 min in the rain with my super heavy bag. Ouchy. My knees were pretty mad with me. :) I finally asked enough people in broken-English/Japanese and I eventually found it. As I walked in the host told me there would be night walk leaving in 30 min... he said I was welcome to come if I was not too tired. In 30 min?! More than enough time to chill out! I dropped off my stuff, checked my email... got a change of clothes, my camera, and... go!
The hostel I was staying in was in the middle of Gion, the Geisha district. I was reaaaaallly hoping to see a Geisha while there. We exited the hostel and walked across the street, and... BAM! 10 seconds later, a Geisha walked right out in front of us and right into the back of a cab. I couldn't believe it. I totally didn't have my camera ready, but it sure was cool to see a real Geisha.
After the Geisha-spotting, we walked through a shine, some alleys, a temple, saw a huge Buddha, and took lots of photos of walkways around Gion at night. I met some people from Malaysia (actually, they were Chinese-Malay, and working in Singapore), and also some people from Indonesia. There were a couple of Americans there too, and they were TOTALLY unfriendly and into themselves. Let me put it this way, I sure was glad to be representing Canada well. :)
After the walk, I went to get some Yakitori (Japanese BBQ skewers) and some Sake with the two Chinese-Malay girls. We then talked for a couple of HOURS about a bazillion different things: each others' cultures, travel, etc. The two girls worked at a fancy hotel in Singapore, and one of the most interesting things for me was to learn about their views and opinions of the "best" and the "most unwelcome" countries, based on their general experience at a 1st class hotel. They were careful to tell me first that this was purely their own personal opinion, and was in no way meant to be an offensive conversation, but I was keen to hear their thoughts anyway.
They said they met good people from all countries (naturally), but (as a generalization), they disliked it when people visited from certain countries. I was surprised at their directness about cultures that they didn't like, and I prodded for more details from their experiences. Despite the generalizations, I thought it was incredibly fascinating to hear their opinions and I was very interested to know how and why they had come to these quite clear generalizations. They had the usual complaints about Americans and so on, I've heard all of those before.
They did continue to speak in generalizations, but I took from it a few pieces of interesting cultural note-taking. In general they said Japanese guests were excellent and very polite, but they mentioned one thing they thought was very interesting about Japanese guests. They said if the hotel room wasn't ready, a Japanese guest would generally seem ok with the mix-up, and if you offered them a more expensive room for free, they would happily take it, or so it seemed. They said Japanese guests were keen to have things as planned, if they paid for a Double Room, they would not want to be upgraded to a King Room if there was a mix up - they had paid for a double room and they expected a double room. A free larger room upgrade was not necessarily viewed as better - it was viewed as a deviation from the plan, which was not necessarily ideal. I thought that was pretty interesting. Being in Japan for only a few weeks I could see the perfectionism in the culture, and personally, I really liked it. It suits me very well, given that I am a planner and I love to plan things and watch the plan progress as expected. I found it interesting to hear folks from a different Asian culture note similar cultural intricacies that I had also noticed in Japan. They also noted that Japanese guests would not get riled up or angry in person, they would be very calm and would not want to embarrass an employee of the hotel. But if they were unhappy with their treatment, a very serious letter would arrive a couple of weeks later, and directed to the management. Very interesting!
One thing they mentioned is that service jobs (like working in a hotel) were looked down upon in general where they are from. They said they have suffered a lot of discrimination in general, given their cultural background. They are Malay-Chinese, and they said while traveling they would have trouble with corruption and would have to resort to bribery a lot. They said they often felt like outsiders, even in their own country. It was too bad to hear of their experiences, and eye-opening to say the least.
All the while we chowed down on more Yakitori skewers and Sake, and it was a very interesting and incredibly candid conversation. The two sisters were very different from each other, the one was very nervous and liked to plan things, and the other like to go with the flow. "It'll be fine, zip it!" the one girl would say to her sister, who was still nervous about something or another. I told them it was probably great for them to travel together, the one girl planned a lot and the other planned not at all... so they could meet in the middle and both benefit from each other. They agreed.
I told them that personally, I strive to have both skills, for both Yin and Yang. I said, "I am organized, but I am not a perfectionist. Once I plan in advance (specifically hard stuff like transportation or accommodation), and I have a direction, then I can relax and enjoy myself much more." Maybe that's why I've been able to travel on my own and not drive myself crazy :)
This was such a long chat, and very interesting. After a couple hours I was totally exhausted from the long day, and I headed back to the hostel to get some much-needed sleep.
Hanging out with the hostel staff from Guest House Kaine in Fukuoka/Hakata
Buddha shrines for your home, and prayer beads
Canal City shopping center
Up in gloriouuus 3DDDDDD!!!!!!!!
Tasty rice ball restaurant
Dog Pikachu costume?
More ridiculous(ly awesome) dog costumes
Canal City was built to look like "the hills of Colorado"
One of the best Miyazaki-goods stores I found in all of Japan
The BEST Totoro mugs and chinaware, this was amazing. If I could have taken this on my back for 2 weeks and it would have made it safely on the plane, I definitely would have.
The coolest catbus plate EVER. It was like $60 and I was THIS close to buying it and it's frickin' amazing matching mug. Seriously. Man this was awesome.
Awesome series of Totoro jumping, in a sort of frame-by-frame sculpture. Very cool.
Engrish t-shirts for kids!
"Hamburger friend. The thing which it cuts it, and do not runout"
Namitatsu, an awesome surf clothing company from Okinawa
Sweet surf clothing
New Balance's "Rainbow Running!" This colour represents the "light of the earth". I was heavily considering buying this absurdity in Tokyo, but it was expensive. It was cheaper here, and I ALMOST bought it. Turns out this was the last time I saw it in Japan, and I really should have just bought it here. Craziest shoe I've ever seen.
Some sort of ferret thing
Japanese hippy clothes
Plastic food outside of a restaurant to help you decide what to buy
Sushi Train place I went to for lunch
Corn sushi! This was weird, but very good.
Back to the train station, this time I took the Shinkansen to Kyoto.
Tasty lunch, some baked goods, a Coca-Cola branded rice water/tea combo, and "Pocari Sweat" - a thirst quencher with an insane name!
No idea what this was, but it was good
Seconds earlier, a real-life geisha rushed out of a building and into this cab!
Dark streets of Kyoto at night
A Buddha statue
More cool alleyways
New friends from the hostel
Our hostel dude and tour guide for the evening
Great view of the city
More cool lanterns
I loved these
Wandering through a temple
Beautiful temple gates
And then we saw some sort of commercial being filmed?!
Sweeeeet Audi and people nervous that I am taking a photo
This looked like quite possibly the nicest restaurant ever
Yakitori skewers for dinner
New Malay-Chinese hostel friends