Thursday, April 17, 2014

Writing about 28th December, Osaka- Kyoto

On this day we had genuinely good  intentions to be on time. Having not met up at all with Sarah and Laura the day before, we’d agreed to meet at Kiyomizu temple in Kyoto at 12:00pm, which I believe then changed to 12:30pm because they were running late. This was to our relief, as for some reason I can’t quite remember now (give me a break, I left this writing stuff way too long) we were… late. Cue to us desperately trying to work out which trains would get us to Kyoto fastest (and cheapest). It was a panicked toss-up between Umeda and Tennoji, as trains often ran from Umeda (and from more companies) but Tennoji’s trains were actually quicker but ran less often, and only from JR. Somewhat lazily, we took a gamble on Tennoji. From there, Angela asked the station master at Tennoji about the fastest train to Kyoto. The tickets bought (rather desperately), the running commenced  (again, checking which station we should be at) and we jumped on the train. The train would take us to Kyoto arriving approximately 12:30 (the time we were supposed to meet at the entrance to Kiyomizu dera). 

^^ View of Kyoto from Kiyomizu-dera ^^

So feeling the vague sense of guilt I constantly feel as a result of being late, I volunteered to pay for us to get a taxi to get there ASAP. It felt like 15 minutes but probably only took about 8 before we got there… only to find we arrived about a minute before Sarah & Laura! Hooray! So this time, we actually met up. We’d organised this time because Sarah and Laura had been off doing something else first (can’t remember what… maybe hiking? Tea service? Oh, wait, I think they were doing Kinkakuji, Ginkakuji or something else we’d already done) and we knew we were now on a timeline. The shops preceding Kiyomizu are amazing, but we only looked in a few (read: Angela managed to buy more tea sets/ Sake sets) before deciding that Kiyomizu was the priority.  Sarah and Laura didn’t want to get dressed up (which we found surprising) but we definitely did, so we headed in. About this time Laura started to change her mind. We could see the “What if…” change to outright longing, and having not previously done it herself, she eventually caved. From there, it was only a matter of time. Unfortunately, due to Angela’s height (and my height and girth… although they tactfully said “height”) we had to pay extra to get special sized Kimono, of which there weren’t as many to choose from. I picked a dark coloured one and Angela decided “Hey, the blonde hair is a draw card… but why only draw attention with blonde when I can with a RAINBOW KIMONO?!”

^^ The funky 5 do dera ^^ (I can’t believe I just wrote that.)

It was undeniably a strategy that worked. In the meantime, we were ushered upstairs. We had to strip down to our underwear (we kept some thermals on- it was bloody cold. I think I retained my thermal pants but I don’t think I could keep the shirt… not sure)  and then put on the white underlayers (cotton skirt & under-kimono). From there we split up- some went straight into hair, others were still changing. The small ladies dressing us use a lot of ties- the kimono are deliberately too long for anyone, so they always have to have the first tie tie the bottom of the kimono at the right height off of the floor. The next tie goes above the first one; it ties the top down and creates a sort of excess kimono flap over the stomach. From there comes the padding- Kimono are designed to hide curves, so because of my narrow waist and huge hips, I usually get a few rolls of towels wadded into my waist to minimise the curves. From there, it was hair, where I decided for old times’ sake, to get the same hair style I’d gotten in 2010. Everyone else picked Sarah’s 2010 hairstyle. My choice was…a mistake. They just didn’t do it very well. Some people’s hair struggled to hold their curls from the start, (the others’ hair looked a bit limp) and mine just looked a bit off. There was something not quite right about it, which grieved me, but it was too late. 

^^ Sister shot ^^

^^ 2010- What my hair was supposed to look like this time. ^^ 

From there, it was outer kimono time, where we slid on our choices (Ange looked slightly ridiculous, like a personal disco gone wrong, whereas the rest of us could have been heading to a funeral). Mankee had a lovely red Kimono (red suits her) but this was where I feel she made a mistake. At the next stage, we could pick accessories and Mankee picked up a sort of outer kimono cape thing. It was a normal addition, and a sensible one given the cold, but it also covered up the colour of her Kimono and because of the bow on her back, made her look… a bit like a hunch back. I think she was glad of it, given the cold, but beauty is pain. (My hair was also pain…fully awkward. But hey, we all made mistakes this time. I think Laura regretted not getting a more colourful Kimono.) After a quick makeup touch up (or put on, in Angela’s case) and grabbing bags and my furry neck warmer (which Sarah kindly and repeatedly referred to as “Monkey’s balls”) we were off to Kiyomizu. 

^^ At first I was pleased because my bow showed. But Ange deflated that by explaining it only showed because there wasn’t enough fabric left to cover the bow like everyone else’s because I was wider than most people. ^^

I’ve always been equal parts enjoyment/guilt of the “You’re white! Way cool!” racial preference experience, and this was no different. We drew a lot of attention, being 5 white girls in Kimono, but none more so than Angela. With her blonde hair and COLOUR!COLOUR!COLOUR! kimono, she was like a neon sign, slightly blinding. And people commented. Some thought we were hot shit. Some thought we were just shit (Angela heard someone comment “Not cute” in Japanese, unaware that she and Mankee could speak pretty decent Japanese).  We moved up, pausing for photos, enjoying (but in my case, often also slightly guilty of) the attention. And we posed. We took photos with about 6 groups of people who wanted a photo, before we ended up moving on. We took lots of photos. It was definitely different from how Sarah and Laura had obviously planned their trip, but they weren’t arguing! (I’d say Laura probably thought it was the best decision she’d ever made! Laura was very into the whole photo experience, probably because like us all, she’s always been a fan of Japanese culture but unlike most of us, has probably not worn Kimono before. Not sure about Mankee?)  Mankee at some point revealed the red Kimono. 

Anyhow, part of the temple was under reconstruction (very disappointing. I’m not even going to go into how disappointing Himeji still is. Bloody hell castle, get your act together!) but we still found plenty of opportunities to get our photos taken in groups-  Sarah/Laura, sisters (Angela/Carly ovbs), the epic travellers (Carly/Ange/Mankee) and friends: Mankee/ Angela &  Carly /Sarah / Laura.  Sarah took the brunt of the photo taking burden, with Angela and myself relieving her. There were many, many photos taken. I got a few “old times’ sake” photos with Sarah, but hardly managed any with Laura as they got a lot of what I now know are couple photos before I could turn around and say “Now Laura!”) As we moved around the temple, it got colder and colder. Like, it got really cold! Finally, we were itching to get out of our Kimono (and the temple was closing) but Mankee spotted a food stand (I think she got tea and Gyoza?) so we waited for her and then headed out.  

^^ 2013 & 2010 – look pretty much the same ha ha^^

And it got colder. As we started to head back down the shopping street, Sarah and Laura asked if we wanted to split up because they wanted to shop for ceramics. We agreed to meet at the Kimono entrance and wait for the others, because we wanted to shop too. Buying a number of things (a  little octopus, so cute! It matches my big octopus and my octopus hat from OsCas!) We went down to where the Kimono store was to wait for Sarah and Laura. We waited, and looked around in the shops a bit and still we didn’t see them. (They said they might take a while so we figured we’d walk down a bit, do some more shopping and then head back up).  We bought candy. We tried to restrain Angela from buying (another) tea set.  Angela may or may not have bought another sake set. 

^^Exemplifying the refined characteristics of Japanese nobility. ^^

^^ When you’re hot, you’re hot. ^^

Finally, we were waiting (and shivering) because we’d agreed to get one or two last kimono photos. It was at this point it started snowing. No wonder we’d been so cold! It seemed to be our fate, Angela, Mankee and I, to wear beautiful traditional clothing and have it begin to snow. (Flashbacks to Gyeongbokgung palace…) It was also at this time that Sarah and Laura emerged from the Kimono shop, having gone to change! We’d been waiting for them but they’d already gone and changed. Apparently, we’d travelled ahead of them at some point, not behind, so they decided we’d already gone in and went to change while we were waiting for them out the front wondering where they were! So Mankee, Ange and I got some photos (Snow kimono!) then changed out of our Kimono. 

Sarah suggested we go to dinner together because we didn’t really hang out much on the trip (overall, we saw them 3 times) which was nice. We headed to Saizeriya, one of my favourite places in Japan. They’re cheap, do a magnificent cheese pizza (hold the buffalo) and of course… the Creamy Melon soft drink. We had to wait on the stairwell (it was awkward until we belatedly figured out the seating system, which was to go in, write your name and group number in the seating book and then go and wait outside to be called. This of course took a bit longer because then we had to write it in and then come back out and wait) before entering. When we got in, I, enraptured, took to my beloved Suntory creamy melon pop like a fiend. Angela, Mankee and Laura became instant fans. (Sarah of course, already being a fan.) It’s funny, because I don’t actually like melon. I don’t like Rockmelon or honeydew melon, and I’m pretty so-so on watermelon. I don’t enjoy Midori, or other fake-melon flavours. But Suntory Pop Melon soft drink is like ambrosia. It is divine in a chemical, no doubt fake colour, flavour and carbonated form. Mmmm, Creamy Melon… 

^^ So good!^^

It is the perfect accompaniment for pizza! Of which, Saizeriya make a great one, when I can order it without buffalo cheese. (To be fair, I’m probably at the point now where I could just eat the damn cheese without being too fussy but old habits die hard.) The pizza was so amazing I had two (I like my pizza. Ain’t no one ever gonna touch it and survive my wrath) and then I had such an amazing dessert- a chocolate mousse with raspberry coolis on the side. The best thing was, it was so cheap there was no need to share. If people wanted to try it, for $2 they could just get their own. (Dear reader if you haven’t already figured, as someone who is fussy, I hate sharing because the other person almost never has things I like to eat! Therefore I lose the only food I like in exchange for something I won’t eat. The only exception is sometimes Ange, because we have similar tastes. Who am I kidding, I’m the only one who reads this shit.) 

^^ As most people commented- “Who be those stylin’ gangstas?” 

At about that point, we split up. Ange, Mankee and I headed home because we were set to go out with J&F people. Austin and Kei had agreed to meet us at 10 in the kitchen so we needed to make a move. We didn’t see them which worried us a bit, especially since Ange heard they’d been talking to Leon. At 10pm, all our fears came true; they’d left at 8 with Leon (fucking Leon, what a douche) because he wanted to leave early and forgot they were supposed to meet us. I was super pissed off which both Kei and Austin were forced to take note of later. Naturally we’d invited Sarah and Laura, but going out isn’t really their thing anymore so we weren’t surprised when they declined. That left us with an issue- we didn’t want to just go to sleep because that was really our one chance for going out… (Next Sat we were in Hiroshima) but we didn’t want to go out on our own so much (a bit deflated after being forgotten!) and we weren’t confident they’d stay in one place to meet us! Also, if we couldn’t get to that place… well meeting up is a lot harder without phones! Messaging and internet is definitely one thing we take for granted at home. 

^^ Some friendly Japanese girls.^^ 

So we did the most logical thing we could- took a series of ridiculous hallway shots where I become an angry gangster, Mankee becomes a hobo and Angela becomes a prostitute because we are so emotionally distraught that we were left behind.  This proceeded well into the night and we were majestic.
Her majesty herself, 

Gangmaster Furrr. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Writing about 27th  December, 2013 (Osaka to Arashiyama)

On Friday 27th we were planning to go to Arashiyama with Sarah and Laura. There were a few hiccups… We were leaving fairly early and I was running 5 minutes late (a personal best!) and by the time I got down to our meeting place, only Angela was there. Ange had suggested to Sarah and Laura that they go on ahead and we’d meet up.
Ironically, it was Mankee who was late that morning, because Mankee was on time pretty much every other day, and Mankee had taken my own lateness like an absolute champ.
(As a side note, I have started to realize I become fatigued way too easily, especially when I travel. I’m like the cookie monster, except for cheeseburgers and sleep. I do live in a garbage can though- that one’s for you Ange. Wait… does the cookie monster live in a garbage can?!? Oh dear.)

Anyhow, by the time we left Sarah and Laura were long gone and we didn’t meet up at all that day. We jumped on the subway to Higashi Umeda, trying to work out which train to catch. Here we met more problems- Sarah and Laura had planned the outing the way they wanted and we weren’t sure of the finer details. We were still slightly hopefully of meeting up at this point, and didn’t worry too much. This lead to us being confused when all trains went to Kyoto. Ange asked the station master which platform to Arashiyama,  (9, I think?) and then we sat. 5 trains must have left while we ate (an incredibly strange) breakfast, because we didn’t realize the Kyoto train was to Arashiyama!

[Biding our time until the “Arashiyama” train came, we headed to the cafes for breakfast, which were closed because it was about  7:30 and most of them were lunch/dinner cafes. We then went to the 7-11 type shops and grabbed whatever looked good. As I bit into my singular, boiled egg, the taste of incredible salt flooded my mouth- so incredible that I couldn’t help but think  a) ‘What the fuck?’  b) ‘Did something go wrong? Like, terribly, terribly wrong?’ and c) ‘Do people really eat this? Why so salted?’  …in the end I couldn’t eat it. But my choc-waffle, yoghurt drink and plain chips were pretty okay. Ange bought a solid meal of chocolate, caramel cake and chocolate covered chips which were confusing to the senses- but we ate the chips later.]

We finally just elected to get on the train to Kyoto and chance it. By this time we figured we must have something wrong and guessed we had to get off the Kyoto train and change trains. This assumption was correct (after an hour of watching trains leave!).  The image of the train lines shows one track from Osaka that splits- one to Kyoto and one to Arashiyama. However, that isn’t quite true! The Arashiyama line is just a side line from a station on the Kyoto line, and because they’re all coloured the same on the station map, it’s a little confusing!  Sarah and Laura no doubt knew this, but because we’d split up, we were ignorant!

^^ And here we have the beautiful shots of the day section. First of the winners right here...^^

^^I have real affection for this one. It has character!^^

We finally got on the train successfully (although we weren’t sure we were successful until we actually got off at the middle station- just ‘winging it’) and the Arashiyama railway was so cool! The trains were different – reminded me of our old red hen trams- except working and not rattling so much - and the station had amazing lamp posts that I immediately fell in love with. The other thing we noticed? It was freaking freezing! I’d debated leaving my coat home in Osaka because it was a pretty mild day, but in Arashiyama we immediately started shivering. None of us had gloves and we were sooooo cold. So we headed to a 7-11 and bought gloves, and I bought a cheap 1000 Yen ($10) beanie. I’d like to say I looked dashing, or in popular terminology “Swag” but in truth I looked like a cheap gnome.  (A cheap gnome munching on undelightfully shitty tasting hot chips with ketchup on my chin.)

^^ How cool I thought I was.^^

^^How cool I really was.^^

Then we had to decide where to go. “Old man Kyorai’s Grave” was an instant hit, although sadly not a destination we managed to get to. When we were there, the wind was up and the boats that we were going to go up the river on weren’t in use. (This was particularly annoying because they were operating before and after we were there. In the end, we didn’t go on them, but by the afternoon, this was almost a relief because it was so damn cold.) So we wandered across the bridge and instantly were distracted by the shops. Needing to compete with my mad gnome style, Angela went full “Old Lady” with what I believe to be an extraordinarily unattractive shawl thing. It naturally did not match anything else she owned, but this has never bothered her.

^^ The boats we were GOING TO GO ON, but didn't, because they closed in vaguely rough wind, but apparently opened when snowing. Go figure...^^

Then we bought sugar candy. Lots of sugar candy. On the list next was accidental Yukata- I was not planning to buy any, but then all of a sudden I was down $50 and had a Kimono, belt and some shoes. Funny how that happens to me…  Finally, we headed up on the walking trails on the way to find the scenic train and Sagano Bamboo forest. About 2 minutes after we started, we stopped for a hot chocolate & toilet break (separately, I assure you),  and Angela, deciding she was a child of the forest (or at least that her shitty shawl was tribal enough to make an Indian reference), decided to sing the Pocahontas theme song.  Can you paint with all the colours of the wind? Indeed, most of the people walking past preferred to laugh rather than paint.

^^ Mankee! You're rowing the wrong way! ^^

 So… 15 minutes later we wandered up the mountain and took a quick photo break. (Yeah, there’s a theme here…). We met some pretty nice girls who asked to take pictures with us, and headed on. After a while of wandering and hoping we were headed in the right direction up a hill, we happened upon the Bamboo forest. It was… nice but I felt a little underwhelmed. We took some photos but it was very crowded so we did our thing and then left. Then we headed to Tenryuji temple which was quite nice. Again, I managed to throw my coin in the ‘good luck’ sort of bowl/area of the pond (I was surprisingly gifted on this trip, which is odd, because I am awfully ungifted at any sort of movement based thing in general) and was happy with that!

^^ Old cat lady we saw en route.^^

^^ I'm laughing hysterically because Angela told me to move ("Get out of my shot loser!") and I just wouldn't. I just sat there and laughed, and laughed. ^^

^^ Our new friends happily prevented Angela from strangling me.^^

Heading around a corner, we reacted both impartially and maturely when a group of hot guys asked to take photos with us. (We’re now Facebook friends but I don’t think they speak much English?). They were from Nagoya, and we were going to tell them when we headed to Spa Land, except spoiler alert: We never got there! Gah! They were pretty nice- holding their umbrellas for us when it started to rain and Mankee grabbed their Facebook details in a display of bravery that we applauded. Then we headed off, (crowing about Maika being jealous of our TOP meeting… eh, EH?) and after a few false starts, managed to somehow find our way to the Scenic Railway. This proved difficult, due to IRRATIONALLY CONFLICTING SIGNAGE. At least, after much debate, we didn’t accidentally walk through the graveyard trying to get to the train. Alas, this did not seem to be “Old Man Kyorai’s Grave”. (A real regret of the day was missing that one.)

Outside of the Scenic Railway we saw a man dressed as a clown. No idea why, but he seemed to be having a grand old time. We then sat and waited for the next train, eating Angela’s chocolate chips, before heading off down the mountain. The train was slightly odd- it was clearly a couple train and had fairy lights strung up for when it was dark in the many tunnels. I think the scenery would have been even more lovely on a better day- as it was, it was gray, miserable and rain filled. At this point, we saw the boats going again, but it was so cold we couldn’t bring ourselves to care. Instead we spent the trip taking a variety of fun-filled pictures out of the windows (Hint: They’re all of a gray day, wild looking river and blurry green trees… so…. Pretty much 34 vaguely identical shots) and taking stupid selfies that ended up mutatedly blurred due to bad lighting as the train rattled along.

^^ This dude knows what's goin' down! ^^

^^ Chocolate chips... it's a bit like that...^^

^^ There's seriously like 30 shots that are slightly more blurred than this- but nearly identical.^^

^^ Aaaaand about 30 shots of Ange making faces in the dark...^^

^^Oh... and the creepy, creepy little bear things. Coupled with the weird music at the station it was just... well, creepy.^^

Good times eh? Well, it got better because the Sagano Scenic Railway doesn’t quite meet up with any other railway- it’s a reasonably short walk… but of course it started snowing! It was the first falling snow we saw in Japan (I think) and explained why it was SO BLOODY FREEZING. (Made me feel a bit better about being a wuss/gnome). By the time we got on the train, we somewhat halfheartedly decided to try and redo stupid Nijo castle. Naturally… despite the train guy’s advice, when we went to get in a taxi, the driver said it would be closed. After some confusion, we found out that if we got there at 4 we could stay until 5, but if we got there after 4 they didn’t let people in? It was all a bit weird and uncertain. So at that point, we pretty much turned around and headed back, not before indulging in some (admittedly fairly uninspiring) KFC.

^^ You can only really see a tiny bit of snow if you squint at my shoulder area...^^

 The next day, THE FROST. (Not really, but REALLY.)

xx from... not sure about the name of a famous gnome. All I can think of are the seven dwarves. Xx Gnome-face?