written by Scott and Alison
Up early after a poor night (for scott). Fiddled around the room until late. Time to deal with the foot, am vaguely nervous and we had to get band-aids... it's tricky not getting blister-pads instead when you can't read anything.
Downloaded pics, but wanted to get going, so we (still) haven't looked at yesterday's.
Decided today was the day for Himeji after all since we realized we have another full day for Kyoto. Got food in the vast underground mall "Porta"... where did the name come from? Alison pointed out that while the Japanese have a history of importing ideas and making them their own --pizza, baseball, Buddhism-- they don't only borrow things from America and England. Got more bento.
Then was the period of not-finding-anything-but-cool-food. We couldn't find a place to heat my bento, then couldn't find the station which was in fact above us. Wandered out on the literal wrong side of the tracks and rushed to find our way back for the train which we now had reserved seats for. Found the magic route through the station, got on the train with a minimum of Scott-doubting-Alison, and promptly fell asleep in a v. long train tunnel. Woke up in Aioi (means Land of No Consonants, unlike the earlier Land of No Pants, which is Aiai) one station after Himeji. Took pictures, failed to take pictures of Nozomi trains passing through station. Koan: If a Nozomi hits someone, is the blood swept off the train by the time it passes the next station at 200+ mph? Got on train headed back to Himeji and reaped the benefits of the ridiculously expensive JR passes.
Himeji has a very different feel from Kyoto and Nara. Shorter buildings, for one. Wider sidewalks, for another. Many, many tourists for a third. Appreciated the mysterious street sculptures (even the abstract nudes had asian body-types). Alison became enraged by the Last Samurai display in the tourist center, but had fortunately eaten her bento on the train, and hence was not homicidal (merely peeved).
Himeji Castle is far more impressive than I had expected... I've been disappointed before by how much pictures made it look like a gigantic house on a raised platform, but the pictures fail to show that the house is in fact a) gigantic, b) sitting on top of a small mountain, c) surrounded by a mountain's worth of proper fortification. I picked up all of the literature I could, and though we found no guides (which the travel books had promised), we took our own tour along with throngs of Japanese families and couples. (Is Himeji a site for romantic dates? Or is it just the aura of hanging around that many children that attracts young couples?) 10,000 pictures later, we were among the last out and it was grey and snowy. Zipped through the Himeji-____ gardens and appreciated the classic gardens, beautiul ponds, and their giant carp. It's humbling to think that some of those carp are probably older than we are. Despite almost being chased out, the staff were nice-- one woman saw us carrying our travel guide with wet ink-stamps on facing pages and came out of the gift shop after us to hand us a thin sheet of paper to protect the stamps.
In the shopping arcade on the way back to the train station we decided that Baobab, a "Tea and Oriental Food" place was a good bet despite the lack of English... well, anything. Alison did a brave job translating, and with few mishaps we decided that "Oriental" means "Continental Asian" to the Japanese-- in this case, Indian.
We took a detour into what we would think of as an arcade and Alison played Taiko Drummer and Street Fighter, doing well in both. We came out and were disoriented by the games... but again found nice people who walked well out of their way to point us back to the station. The shopping arcades are quite confusing... though generally following a few parallel streets, similar covered streets tend to connect them, and the all look alike after a few minutes.
Home in Kyoto and little of note... the methods and means of playing Pachinko still elude us after our first actual study. Got tea, "BestHitSoda", a mysterious fruit cup, and tissues in a convenience store (konbeniensu shoppu). The fruit still, at 11 PM, mystifies us... it was clear, like lichi; tasted like pineapple, but had the consistency of sealy posturepedic foam in that in slowly inflated after you compressed it and was hard to bite through. Scott maintains that it was fruit, but Alison is skeptical, admitting only that it was delicious!
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