The first week of May in Japan is known as "Golden Week." During this time, most people take a much needed vacation. The only problem is that when the entire country takes a vacation, the roads are predictably crowded and spaces are limited on buses, trains, and planes. Once again, Makoto has proven that having a Japanese boyfriend in Japan is quite helpful. He was able to book 3 seats on an overnight bus from Shinjuku to Osaka for my friend Lindsay, Mako, and myself. This is probabaly the cheapest way to travel although not the most comfortable.
On Tuesday, May 2, 2006, we set out for Osaka. The bus ride was long and winding at times. The bus driver's voice sounded like sandpaper on rusty iron probably due to emphazema but that didn't stop him from lighting up during pit stops. Although this wasn't the highlight of my Golden Week experience, visiting Japanese rest stops was on my mental list of things I wanted to do before I left Japan. For the most part, they aren't much different than US rest stops but I thought the electronic map of the bathroom was fascinating...
11 hours later we arrived in Osaka. We checked out the takoyaki (octopus balls...mmm) stands for future eating reference and met up with my friend Kebin from the band "Panda, No Panda." He took us to his pad and we said hello to Dabey who was just waking up...must have been nice to sleep until 2pm. Thanks to Kebin and Dabey we had a nice place to rest our weary heads and our wallets during golden week.
(from top to bottom) Dabey and Kebin
Our first meal in Osaka consisted of takoyaki and Chu-HIs. Chu-HIs (Chooo-Highs) are fruity alcoholic drinks which are yummy and refreshing. If you're not careful, you forget they have alcohol and can get quite drunk. I had my reservations about eating takoyaki (a mixture of octopus, flour, and egg rolled into a ball)..I'm not a big fan of octopus...but it wasn't bad. I've been pretty adventurous about trying new food. I'm sure I've eaten some things I would never had though about eating before I came to Japan. I put my foot down about eating horse, sea urchin, or ika sashimi (although I have tried ika..it's gross). Sitting in the sunshine with Makoto and Lindsay after such a long trip was perfect.
Keito and Mako (with Chu-HIs) Takoyaki
After lunch, we were off to Kobe where Lindsay and I would be playing later that night. Our first stop was Helluva Lounge, the live house where we had our show. We had some time before sound check so we walked around Kobe looking for kintsuba, a local treat made from beans.
even Colonel Sanders gets into the holiday spirit
"Joan" goofing off"
strange placement of statue
We returned to Helluva Lounge for what was a crappy sound check...it had me worried that we were too worn out for our show that evening. Poor Lindsay's voice was tired, my head was pounding, and the keyboard was hissing. The spirit of "Joan" (our band) was with us for our show, luckily, and everyone seemed to really like us. We were invited to play there again and I sold 3 cds.
The next day we headed to Nara to see the Great Buddha (Daibutsu) in Todaiji Temple. First we cut through a matsuri (festival) looking for Iori, a cafe/restaurant Makoto looked up. We ate there for lunch. It was the best place! I wish it was close to where I live. It was an old style wooden building..cozy..with a black cat wandering around and a small group of people having a ceramics class. The food was also incredible! There was a stage where bands play, presumabley they have music at night. If I ever get a chance to go back that way I'm going to book a show at Iori. Afterward, we sought out the temple. Unfortunately my cameras batteries crapped out so the rest of my pictures were either taken by Lindsay or taken by me with Lindsay's camera. The Temple claims to be the largest wooden structure in the world...and certainly it seemed like it although the next day Makoto and I went to another temple in Kyoto which boasted the same thing. In any case, it was incredible to behold. My American eyes aren't used to seeing such old or intricate structures and it made me jealous of Makoto's culture. To think that Japanese high school students go on a field trip to Nara while I went to the Morris museum seems unfair. One of my students, a businessman, told me that he could not appreciate the wonder of what he was seeing when he went there as a student. Maybe all teenagers are the same?
Later that day we headed to Shin Sekai, which, as far as I know doesn't have any famous touristy sites but we went there anyway because Mako has a thing for dive bars which, in Japan, translates to mean "Ojisan bars" (old man bars). I have to admit, I'm quite fond of them myself. Since I've met Makoto, we've gone to several ojisan bars around Tokyo but Lindsay had yet to go to one. I really feel like eating and drinking at one is essential for a traveller to fully experience Japan. Anyway, Shin Sekai is full of ojisan bars but they close rather early and the ones that were open had a line out the door. We finally found one to our liking and didn't have to wait too long. The waitress, an older woman, looked stressed out running back and forth. That didn't stop Mako, normally the sweet polite type, from shouting out "Sumimasen! Sumimasen! Beeru!" I guess when he wants a beer, he wants a beer! We san nin (3 people) enjoyed our beers and the local cuisine (aka bar food) kushi katsu (fried food).Obasans (old women) shouldn't work this hard...
Billiken (god), Shin Sekai
Later that night we met up with our friends Kebin and Dabey for 200yen drinks at the Moonwalk bar. We treated our hosts (the least we could do) and the bill, for 5 people was only about $50! We were completely exhausted from our ramblings but Lindsay and I stayed up with Kebin and Dabey watching "Cheaters." If you've never seen it, I don't really recommend watching the show unless you are amused by poorly educated people shouting at other ridiculous people because they cheated on them or unless you're with Dabey and Kebin... They picked out the highlights for us. The two of them always make me laugh and I'll never forget their air guitar/air drum rendition of the longest and most ridiculous rock song ever by a killer band called "Newport"...the drum solo was the best!
On our last day of vacation, we went to Osaka station with Lindsay to bid her farewell. She took the Shinkansen home. Makoto and I didn't have to head back until later because we had booked a flight for that night. We went to Kyoto and spent most of our time looking for a locker to stow our baggage (mostly my baggage because he's a boy and knows how to pack light). I also learned about the convenience store postal service. You can send anything by mail and it will get to its destination the next day. My guitar had become my albatross so we send it by mail back to Mako's apartment. I was really worried about that but it turned out to be great and it freed me up so I could walk around Kyoto. We rambled around back streets and took a bus to Kiyomizu-Dera. We wound our way through the crowd, up the hill, and past the many shops leading up to the temple. Like most of the tourists there, I took lots of pictures with Lindsay's camera until the sun started to set and the bells rang out telling us it was time to head home.
Heading home was an adventure all on its own. We took the train back to Osaka where we managed to find a magical Ojisan bar within Osaka station. Weird. We were hungry and thirsty and assumed we had time for a quick beer and some bar food. We soon found out that our little detour cost us some precious time and we had to run to catch the train and then run again to catch our plane. We made it with not a minute to spare and some silly mishaps including Mako falling on his butt as we raced into an elevator...awwwwww! Quite the adventure, this week was my last real vacation before my roommate got mono and was hospitalized, the cat pooped on my bed, and my work load doubled but that's another story for another day.