So, over a week after I arrived safely in SFO, I'm past all the exhaustion and adjustment that comes from arriving in the US a few hours before you left.
Here's my Japan trip, which lasted from December 30th to January 9th. I'll have vacation pictures up on oop-ack as soon as I nab them from seiya, but for now, here's a quick look at the first half of my trip:
December 30th, 2003. My Game Boy saved my life. Seriously. With 13 hours on a plane, then two hours on the bullet train and half an hour on the subway, a borrowed copy of Advance Wars was all that kept me sane. Also--Japan is a really, really poorly labeled country. It took us a good hour to find our hotel, including 15 minutes lost in the subway/JR station. But with all that out of the way, seiya and I safely landed in the Comfort Hotel in Osaka, a pretty nice place with a bathroom that attacked seiya.
December 31st: KOUSHIEN. Anyone who has read this rant when I'm in baseball mode, or has read pretty much any baseball manga ever written, knows the importance of this site. While pretty much everything was closed down, seiya and I managed to get a good look at the stadium where stars are born and forged. We also checked out the very amusing Koushien shrine, which is supposedly a Susano-o shrine for traffic safety, but is really a Hanshin Tigers shrine. I mean, c'mon, they have a home plate made out of stone in front of the place where you hang your prayers.
We also checked out Osaka's Den Den Town, which is sort of a miniature Akihabara. Here, I scoured about 10 stores for Daibanchou, the 18-plus game where you get to take over the world, and no doubt an influence on the freaky dream I had that night. But, like Tears for Fears said, everybody wants to rule the world, and every freaking store in Osaka was sold out. Every one. As a sidenote, Daibanchou's a really fun game--though I, unlike a lot of other people who play the game, hold control and skip through the porn, so I'm actually not getting the 'full' experience of the game. Eh, whatever--I get to rule the world and beat people up. On the clean side of things, I also picked up D->A: Black and Kunochi, which confirms that there are three types of main character which will almost always pull me in: banchou (gang leader), shinigami (Death god), and ninja (badass). The one that has the most exceptions is ninja, since there are few situations where I can imagine myself playing I-Ninja, unless threats of violence are involved.
I also got to play the Lupin typing game in the arcades, which was certainly an interesting experience--nothing like playing a typing game in another language to prove that you suck at typing when you don't have muscle memory to save you.
That night, I had the weirdest dream, which is described (and embellished) above. It was an odd mix of Sega Gaga and Romance of the Three Kingdoms, where I was Nolan Bushnell in the '70s, and taking over the continental United States. There were no drugs involved, just Japanese video games and TV.
January 1st, 2004: Japanese New Year's TV is the best stuff EVER. From daifuku russian roulette to celebrity parenting contests, we saw all sorts of great programming--oh, and a whole lot of SMAP. SMAP's top song of 2003 (of all time, really), "Sekai ni hitotsu dake no hana", was everywhere on TV, and it was the start of a long, long period of time where the song would haunt us.
We went to hatsumoude at Sumiyoshi Taisha, where pretty much everyone else in Osaka was gathered. It was an awesome experience, with everyone coming to wipe off ill fortune, have some really good booth food, and practice that "religion" thing I've heard about. Seiya had some takoyaki and okonomiyaki, while I snacked on sponge cake and taiyaki (which I got specifically so I could take an "uguu~" picture for Fred). I went to Japan for two reasons--to go to hatsumoude and Koushien, and by the third day of the trip, both of those were done. Neither disappointed me, either. I only wish I'd been in Kyoto instead of Osaka, but every single hotel in the Kyoto area was filled to bursting, since everyone else wants to be there, too. New Year's in Japan was awesome, though--bustling without being excessively noisy, beautiful, and a lot of fun.
January 2nd, travel day to Hiroshima. In Hiroshima, after a good 13 stores being sold out, I finally found Daibanchou as Seiya and I met up with Trevmex, our bud in the JET program. Hiroshima suddenly turned from the city of peace to the city of porn as Trevor happily discovered two bags full of questionable material by the river of the Peace Park. If you look at the pictures we have in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome, you'll see them behind his feet. His wife was none too amused.
At Trevmex's suggestion, we got Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, which is infinitely tastier than Osaka-style okonomiyaki, and unfortunately, extremely difficult to find in the US. Then, we happily trundled off to the boonies of Shimane-ken, which has one of the Three Shrines of Japan, and... that's about it.
January 3rd: It's foogin' COLD in Shimane, especially since most of Japan doesn't believe in central heating. I slept on the hot carpet, in front of the TV, which was just about the perfect place to wake up--I get well acquainted with the boob tube in the morning, though I found it difficult to pull my arm out from under the blanket to change the channel. I watched Ashita no Nadja because I didn't want to change the channel, and felt slightly dirty afterward. Heat Guy J (with the second, Chiba-sung ending) cures all ills, though, and at some point we watched a show about a cell phone-toting teenage detective, which was fascinating, even if it was kind of dumb. Once I have $200 to blow, I might even buy the DVD set for it.
But anyway, the order of the day was the Hinomisaki lighthouse, which is probably the best view I got in Japan--even over the Tokyo Tower or the garden in Kyoto. If you're ever interested in going to the boonies in Japan, check out the views--they're great. Just make sure not to drive through Izumo Taisha the weekend after New Year's, because we moved about one block in a half hour. We got there before the lighthouse closed, though, which was a bonus.
On the way back, we stopped by a Japanese supermarket, where I had my first curry pan, and liked it. However, I didn't find any yakisoba pan, which started the next great search after finding Daibanchou.
January 4th: Parting ways with Trevmex, we headed via bullet train to Kyoto, where we saw... nothing, really, collapsing in a travel-weary heap in a genuine ryokan. Japanese TV continued to be weird well after the new year, which was no surprise, but a great delight.
Next rant: Tokyo, baby!