Trip Start Aug 28, 2005
17Trip End Dec 2005
Konnichiwa!! Hi everyone, I've just completed my last port of call on this wonderful adventure (if you don't count Hawaii, San Diego or the other places I'm visiting before I get to actually home) and I have to say that if it has to end (and I kind of wish it never would end!) then Japan is the greatest "last hurrah" that anyone could hope for!! The language barrier has been huge and scary here, engrish is really hard to understand, but Japan is so safe to travel in that it doesn't really matter if you get lost (but I managed not to get lost here! Yay!!!)
Japan, Day 1, Kobe, Kyoto and Toijian Hostel
We landed in Kobe today and after a long passport-checking and passport-getting and landing procedure we docked at Kobe Terminal which is conviently attached to a port-liner trainsystem which, for 2 dollars, takes us to a main train terminal from which we can get to anywhere in Japan
We arrived and hunted down the Toijian Hostel which is really really cool. It's just a big old-style Japanese house with beds EVERYWHERE! The first room was for shoes, it wasn't a tatami room, but after we stepped up to the Tatami matted level then the office had beds (well, futons) and the upstairs rooms were just bunkbed after bunkbed, and all the rooms downstairs seemed to have beds too, except the common room and the bathroom and kitchens, it was so awesome and bustling! For 20$ a night we got free breakfast, no curfew, and lots of blankets (it was cold!) on our place to sleep, it was perfect, and right down the street from the once-a-month market happening the next day!
After we dumped some of our stuff at Toijian we went walking and found Pontocho Geisha district where we strolled along the Kamo river watching in the windows of the teahouses that back onto the river as the Geisha and Maiko entertained, it was fabulous! We also walked down Pontocho street, a winding narrow alleyway where we saw loads of cool Japanese teahouses and restaurants, it was dark with pools of light, neon signs and old-fashioned handscripted signs, like something out of a very mixed up dream. The first time I saw two Maiko walking with their hair gleaming black and faces stark white with pink blush, and their outfits and their obi and their shoes, well to be quite honest I burst into tears (Michelle and Adriana were kind and only made fun of me a little bit) and sobbed because I was really happy
Walking around in Japan is really fun, it's a mix of old and new -especially in Kyoto where traditions seem to be stronger-anyways, when you get hungry you just buy something from a vending machine, when you get cold you just buy a hot drink from a vending machine and if you get bored you buy a little toy or book......from a vending machine! Everything you need is in these machines, it's wild.
Anyways we walked around until fairly late, we bought tabi (Japanese socks with the big toe divided from the others so you can wear flipflops or traditional shoes with them!) and lots of weird food and fun drinks (why doesn't the west go to bottle-top CANS?? They're SO much better than regular cans!) and we wandered around the brightly lit streets as well as the back alleys where we saw little shrines and what might have been some okiya (eisha houses, we thought they might be because they had the traditional wooden name-signs over the entranceways and they looked a certain way. We also went to a bookstore where I spent 100$ on Kimono magazines, books and a fascinating book about colours of Kimonos (it's in Japanese AND English!) and then I realized I had to CARRY all those books, ugh!!! Eventually we walked back to Toijian and went to bed, it was a pretty noisy busy place to try and sleep but we were so tired that for the most part we slept through the insanity of the drunken singing people (ugh) and the girl breaking her front teeth out of jaw (ew!) because she was so drunk she fell down. Anyways, all in all we slept well and it was fun.
Japan, Day 2, Toiji Market, Maiko Dress-up, Botanical Gardens and back to Kobe
Today we woke up at 9:00 and had a breakfast of tea, toast (crazy thick pieces of bread and peanut butter that was whipped or something!) and there were eggs too but we opted not to bother with them
Toiji market takes place at Toiji temple once a month on the 21st and is a HUGE crazy thing full of kimono and Obi and clothing and dolls and books and music and food and everything ever! There was an entire stand selling ginger! I bought an orange kimono (with white buds and blossoms on it) and a red and silver and gold obi and in the market some women helped me pick an appropriately coloured obigajime (cord to tie the obi). The entire ensemble is secondhand and as such cost very little, but it's still really really pretty!
We left the market around 1100 hours to go to the bank (no luck for me, they didn't take interac) and then a cab to Gion where Michelle and I played Maiko for a few hours. Below is a very detailed description of the experience, you can skip it if you want to/if you're not interested in the details of dressing up as a Maiko.
The Maiko Experience
First we stripped down to bra and underwear and they gave us a thin (aka see-thru, if you ever do this wear nice underwear!) white cotton robe (which was far too small) to wear and a pair of white fitted tabi socks
Once our faces were complete (and they did me in a different style as Michelle! Very exciting! She was done up as a younger Maiko and me as an older one, nearing the end of her training) we got to pick our kimono. I picked a blue robe with lighter blue swirls and cranes and flowers, very very very pretty (I'll be showing off the pictures as soon as I get them!). Based on the robe we chose (Michelle got a kelly-green one with flowers, also very pretty) they selected for us the rest of the outfit. I got a light gold obi and pink accessories on my wig. (also, they chose a collar for me that represented an older Maiko and a younger one for Michelle, they really knew what they were doing!)
The dressing procedure was as such: over the thin cotton robe they put us into thin wrap-around skirts of white, and then underskirts of red and white pattern (this, in the old days, would have been a full under-kimono). Over our tops they put on two collars attached to faux-shirts which they tied into place with strings (kind of like kimono collars attached to really long dickies)
The transformation was awe inspiring! I didn't really look Japanese from the neck up, my face shape is all wrong and my nose is much too large, but my body looked Japanese (I couldn't draw a deep breath, that's how tight the obi was) and my gait changed to accommodate the kimono and the style of walking I adopted looked like a very clumsy Japanese person. It was amazing! Michelle and I each sat for a photo session with a professional photographer and then were helped into okobo to go walking in Gion.
Maiko, apprentice Geisha or "Dancing Girls," wear very distinctive shoes called Okobo. These thong-sandle-type shoes are about 4-6 inches off the ground, platform style (not high heeled at all) and the shoe tapers to be about ½ the size at the bottom as it from where your foot is. So, walking in them is tippy, scary, dangerous business which we were expected to complete wearing full Maiko regalia (very heavy, easy to trip on, etc etc) and a wig which required us to hold our heads a certain way
Anyways, we walked around Gion for a while and were stars! Every Japanese person called us kawaii (cute) or beautiful (in english, obviously we weren't fooling anyone!) and some made us stand for lots of pictures and one guy with a big expensive professional looking camera followed us for 5-10 minutes snapping shots! I fear we'll end up on the front of "silly tourists weekly magazine" or some such thing, but it was a lot of fun! We saw some real Maiko and Geisha as we toured about and it made me realize how garish our kimono were compared to their bright and beautiful ones, oh well! We visited a shrine, walked over a beautiful little bridge, and basically had a blast hobbling about Gion in all our glory.
Afterwards we scrubbed off our makeup and sat around waiting for the photo-proofs to come back and I when they put them down and I saw myself in print I burst into tears, again. All this Maiko stuff makes me weepy and I don't know why! Anyways, we selected 3 prints each to have mailed home as larger, framed pictures, and then we bought CD's, also to be mailed home, of all the pictures and then we took the proof-sheets with us. It was all terribly exciting and if I ever get the chance to do it again I'd jump at it (but maybe go as a Geisha so I won't have to wear the crazy-tigh obi). While we were there we saw a little girl and her mother dressing up (SO CUTE!) and a Grandfather came with his grandson who got dressed up as a Maiko. This was a little confusing as Maiko are always female, but it was heartening to see a kid being permitted to play dressup without gender roles and without fear of negative response.
Day 2 Continued... (after the Maiko Experience)
We wandered around Gion, ate some street-vendor food (rice goo balls barbecued with teriyaki sauce or something similar, yum?) and then took a cab to the botanical gardens. It's actually coolish autumnal weather here, the first chilly weather we've experienced (and we're revelling in it!) and it was GORGEOUS at the gardens! We were only there a short while before they closed (darnit) and then we went to the train station and had Mister Donut for dinner (it kicks Tim Horton's butt in terms of donuts, but falls really short in terms of anything else. The noodles were good though). And picked up the stuff we'd cleverly left in a day-locker (that's where the heavy books and dirty clothes lived while we were off being Maiko). We caught a train to Kobe, ended up at the wrong station and had to take a cab to the ship (we felt like fools). Back on the ship we did the routine picture swap (yay digital cameras!) and watched a bit of a movie before going to bed ("Lords of Dogtown" was good but whoever thought it would be funny to make Heath Leger look ugly was a sick sick person).
Japan Day 3, Sleeping in and Kobe wanderings (a comparitively boring day)
Today I slept in until 1300. Kyoto really exhausted me! I got up eventually and went into Kobe via port-liner train where I found the indoor-outdoor shopping centre and had a blast! I bought more tabi (because they're just that cool), and a pair of boots (knee high black and purple lace-up platforms, Japanese gothic culture ROCKS!!!!) and I had some food (smoothies are yummy and EVERYWHERE! Why is north american lagging behind?) and eventually headed back to the ship to pick up Adriana (she'd been on a trip all day) so we could go to supper
We were both craving pizza (pizza=home) so we found a little italian place and bought a wonderful cheese pizza which was mostly sauce and only a wee bit of cheese but for once the sauce had FLAVOUR and the crust wasn't cardboard, it was herby and yummy! The whole meal was amazing and oh so yummy and I had fresh squeezed grapefruit juice and it was to die for!
Over dinner we talked about how much we miss things from home and how we're really quite ready to be headed back, but how we also wish this could just keep going on forever because we're really into the swing of things now! But the swing of things simply means we're coping, and perhaps, we think, coping isn't all that great of a thing to be doing! It's confusing, we want to travel and we're having a blast ALL THE TIME, but at the same time it's scary when you can't remember the last time you did the most basic things, like wash your own dishes or not have to show ID to get into your home. We don't think we're rid of the travel bug yet, but we're ready for THIS adventure to be done.
I'm tired. Not physically but in every other way. I'm flying sort of on autopilot these days because my brain is saturated with thoughts and ideas and everything from everywhere I've been and I've stopped being able to function at the level I'm used to. I see things happening and it takes me longer to really get into them, to understand and appreciate. I really REALLY need time to absorb all this "stuff" and I really don't have it, it's just go-go-go! Well, soon it will be stop-stop-stop, we figure, so we might as well push ourselves to keep going for the last few days of Japan and then exams. We're all tired, but we have to keep going, that's just how it is so we might as well enjoy it!