Monday, April 04, 2005

3/29 part 1: geisha make gaijin go happy, happy!

[Transcribed from my trip journal]

I'm feeling very old ladyish right now, as it's only 9PM and I'm totally ready to crash! In my defense though, it's been a long day and I'm still on California time.

Anyway, today I got up around 7AM and went downstairs for breakfast. The line for the "Western-style" breakfast was practically out the door, so I opted for the traditional Japanese restaurant instead. Unfortunately, they were pretty busy too, so the hostess timidly asked if I would mind sharing a table "with friend". I turned around to see who she was referring to, and it was one of my fellow tour participants...a man I shall refer to as Mouthbreather, because I honestly haven't seen him close his mouth once. Despite my misgivings, I said sure, and she led us to a table.

"This ought to be interesting, huh?" I said in a polite attempt to make conversation.

"Not as interesting as the breakfast I had at my friend's house once," he said, pushing his thick-lensed glasses up his nose.

"Oh, really?" I said, trying to spear a piece of tamago with my chopsticks.

"Yeah, he's like Mexican, and they served---"

I put the tamago in my mouth just as he said, "Cow guts."

Yeah, thanks for that glorious contribution to my breakfast, assface. Not like I'm trying to FUCKING EAT or anything.

Despite Mouthbreather's conversational topics and the smell of natto wafting up from a bowl on my tray, I enjoyed my breakfast. I even ate the umeboshi, a pickled plum that was sour enough to make my mouth pucker and my eyes squinch shut.

After breakfast, I still had some time before our appointed meeting time, so I wandered across the street and went into the post office, where I actually managed to buy stamps without using a word of English. Go me! The mailbox outside had this cute character on top:

Then I wandered over to the subway station and got a shot of this poster:

I'm not sure what it's supposed to be advertising, but it features legendary manga artist Osamu Tezuka's most famous characters, including Astroboy, Black Jack, and Kimba, who was allegedly the inspiration for Disney's The Lion King. (You can see another Kimba in the background on top of a kiosk).

Our first stop of the day was Kinka-kuji, or the Golden Temple, which is covered in gold leaf and has a phoenix on top:

The entire area was beautiful, and I got some great shots.

Next we were off to Nijo-jo (Japanese for "No pictures allowed inside"), which served as an inn for provincial feudal lords visiting Kyoto. We had to take our shoes off to walk inside, and as soon as we did, a distinctly unpleasant aroma filled the air.

"Man, somebody skip their shower today?" our tour guide Isaac (same guy as last time; he's really cool) said. "Smells like damn Fritos in here!"

Nijo-jo had beautiful wall scrolls and all sorts of ingenious traps to catch enemies, like a trap door in the ceiling for samurai to drop down on unwanted visitors, and a "nightingale floor", which squeaks as you walk across it.

Our next stop was Kiyomizu-dera, which I absolutely loved. It was an area full of beautiful temples and shrines, as well as tons of souvenir stands and food stalls. I bought jyaga-bata and munched on it as I strolled around. I was searching for a trash can to throw away the stick when I heard cries of "Oh my god!" and "Wow!" and "Kirei!" behind me. I turned around, and to my utter delight, I saw real live geisha!

They were so beautiful that it almost brought tears to my eyes, and yes, I'm a notorious sap, but still! What a great moment. When I was talking to some of my fellow tour participants later, I found out that most of them hadn't even seen the geisha, so I felt doubly lucky.

After that experience, I bought a can of commemorative Grave of the Fireflies fruit candy for G and a geisha keychain for myself, and then---much to my distaste---I was forced out of sheer necessity to use a squat toilet. It actually wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be, although it put a real strain on my already sore thighs! There was a pair of tongs hanging from a hook on the wall, and beneath that was a sign that said in Japanese and English, "If you did drop object in toilet. These handy tongs."

Um...ewww. Sorry, but anything short of a vital organ that I lose in a squat toilet is staying in the squat toilet.

One final shot of Kiyomizu-dera, and then I'll wrap this up for now:


Tamago: Sweetened omelette.
Natto: Fermented soybeans. They have a snotlike consistency and smell like feet.
Jyaga-bata: A baked potato, with butter, on a stick.