News for October 2007

The Endless Bus Ride

Today, we went to Nijō Castle in Kyoto, as part of the tail end of our sightseeing after the Tai-kai. The castle features a nightingale floor, which is an ancient security measure. The simple act of walking across the floor produces a series of squeaks and chirps which, when combined, resemble the sound of birds.

Bus ride hell. We must have been on the bus the whole day. Sightseeing is essentially worthless if you have to eat lunch in 10 minutes, and rush around in the place you are visiting. Japanese travel itineraries are somewhat unrealistic. I’m glad I extended my trip by an additional two weeks.

After we returned to Osaka, I enjoyed some “Western” style food for the first time in a week. I never thought I would enjoy a plain salad as much as I did.

Tomorrow is my birthday, and marks the passing of a phase of my trip. I will join 3 others as we cut out on our own in Kyoto, and after they leave on November 5th, I will be on my own in Japan until November 13th, when I return home. This culture is far removed from any I have experienced to date, and the language barrier makes it especially challenging. I’ve learned a couple of important phrases to aid me in my travels, but I am a far cry from being able to communicate effectively.

Posted: October 31st, 2007
Categories: blog, travel
Tags: , ,
Comments: No Comments.

Ise Jingu Shrine

Tori-i at Ise JinguI had the most amazing experience today. We went to Ise Jingu, the main Shinto shrine, and witnessed a dance ritual. We weren’t allowed to video or take pictures, but I will forever remember the feeling in my soul. When the music started, and the dancers danced, I felt deep emotion welling up inside. I wasn’t able to hold back the tears. When the music stopped, they subsided, and when it continued the tears resumed. I was moved not only by the music, but by the dancers themselves. Their costumes were long and flowing, and had elements of nature included as part of the regalia, including flowers and leaves.

The whole experience gave me a strong impression of nature worship. I also kept thinking about Jahmes during the event, knowing that he too would have a emotional/spiritual experience as I did. The gift shop sold little pieces of the shrine (it gets rebuilt every 20 years or so), so I’m bringing him a little portion of it.

Tomorrow, we leave the Ise area, and head back to Osaka. Most of the group will head back, and I will continue to Kyoto with Franco, Michael, and Phil.

See more pictures of the trip.

Posted: October 30th, 2007
Categories: blog, travel
Tags: ,
Comments: No Comments.

Karaoke Nightmare

Holy moly.

All in one night.

I went to a karaoke bar in this hotel (which, I might add, is a resort, on an isolated peninsula in the middle of nowhere) and we had no idea that there was a $12 surcharge per person. So our fricking bill ended up being $114 for 5 people, and only 2 of us sang. Fortunately, we got 3 video clips of us singing, which makes up for the feeling of being robbed.

This place is a trip.

Don performing Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”

http://youtube.com/watch?v=3Ay7rW3a9PQ

Don doing Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”

http://youtube.com/watch?v=Ol5_BFDex70

Me doing Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild”

http://youtube.com/watch?v=Hb3HecpJfCE

Drunken Japanese Karaoke Session

http://youtube.com/watch?v=WzIqNWIS16I

Drunken Brawl

http://youtube.com/watch?v=94MDibO0EjI

Posted: October 27th, 2007
Categories: blog, travel
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Comments: 2 Comments.

Sightseeing

I slept well last night. It felt like I was up for a really long time, because we were travelling with the sun, and it didn’t set on us until we got to Osaka.

Osaka Night 2The hotel window opened to a low-railed balcony that overlooked the city from the 31st floor, which yielded some nice breezes. Breakfast was not traditional Japanese. It was a smargasbord of Japanese and Western foods, and allowed the diner a choice of pickled plums, okra, seaweed salad and other Japanese treats, along with bacon, eggs, ham, croissants and the like. It was a bit disconcerting to find Western foods there, to be honest. I guess they’re trying to cater to our tastes.

As I sit here waiting for our tour bus to take off, I’m reminiscing about some of the more interesting parts of yesterday:

Self-portrait in Japanese heated mirrorWhen I emerged from the steamy shower, I could see myself in the mirror! Instead of finding a fogged-up mirror, I was surprised to see a clear, unblurred reflection of myself peeking back at me. Heated mirrors! Furthermore, the toilet has a heated seat (complete with high/low temperature controls), and features a built-in bidet and sprayer. In other words, your toilet sprinkles your tushie clean. America needs better bathroom technology.

Our tour guide is an interesting old Japanese gent who seems to insist on talking the whole time. Ok, not the whole time, but enough to make me check out for lack of patience. He has just informed me that Osaka is known as the “Kitchen of Japan.” Cool.

We visited the Todai-Ji Temple today. The scale of this structure was staggering. It is apparently the largest wooden structure in the world. There was a pillar with a hole in the bottom that people would pass themselves through, and I slid right through. People were cheering as I pulled myself out, probably because most of the people going through were kids, and they were probably amused to see a gaijin (foreigner) pulling himself through a tiny hole in a giant wood pillar. I also tried some strange, fried starchy balls, some octopus dumplings, and some tea-flavored ice cream. Yum.

Later, we had lunch at a hotel. Our meals came out in an obento box, which is a typical lunch box of assorted meats and seafood, accompanied by bowls of miso and rice.

Did I mention the incredible gel drink I had last night? Wow. It was like drinking slushed up jello in a squeezy container. Yum. I wish we had something like it in the USA. They had assorted flavors, and many of them had vitamin and mineral supplements added.

Later on our sightseeing trip, we visited Takamatsu Sensei’s grave. The whole process was a bit rushed to me. It seemed appropriate that it was raining. The world was crying for the great loss of a Ninja Master.

After a really long bus ride, during which the back of the bus got caught in a whirlwind of humor and proceeded to laugh ourselves to tears, wherein the simple mention of the word “splint” would send us into peals of laughter, and a delicious treat called Pocky – Men’s was passed around freely amid Indian/Sri Lankan accents aplenty, we finally arrived at our hotel.

The dinner spread was ridiculously huge. Even I, with my voracious appetite, was unable to completely devour what was placed before me.

See more pictures of the trip.

Posted: October 26th, 2007
Categories: blog, travel
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Comments: No Comments.

Japan

…is intense. I have seen wary eyes peer at me and my compatriots as we walk around Osaka. Perhaps they are daunted by our collective size. Not only are we physically bigger, but everything else is smaller scale! I had no idea I was such a big person, at least until I checked into a Japanese hotel room.

Noodle dish at an Osaka restaurantA bunch of us went to get a bite. Wow. That was an embarrasing adventure in lack of communication. We somehow managed to order meals by pointing to items in the window. The food was decent. Dana, a member of our group, is a vegan, and he had some trouble getting something to eat. When he thought he ordered tofu, he got pork. Oops.

I’m going to bed now. I am wiped out.

See more pictures of the trip.

Posted: October 25th, 2007
Categories: blog, travel
Tags: , ,
Comments: No Comments.

The Flight to Japan…

…was long. 11 hours from San Francisco to Osaka, Japan. The chicken was terrible, the beef not so bad. The best way to sleep is to cover one’s head with the thin blanket they give you. I managed a few winks. Better than nothing, I guess.

Below is a pic of Osaka Kansai Airport. Pretty cool looking. It was nice to breathe some fresh air after being crammed in a tin can for a several hours.

Osaka Kansai Airport

Posted: October 25th, 2007
Categories: blog, travel
Tags: , ,
Comments: No Comments.

The Road to Japan

Bootz with Dried MangoMy friend Bootz was here to pick me up on time (3:00 am), and he drove me to the bus, which in turn took me to Chicago O’Hare airport. The bus ride was uneventful. Imagine 29 martial arts practitioners from the Milwaukee area passed out on a bus. Not much else.

I’ve never quite taken a trip like this before. I usually travel alone, and I didn’t quite realize the difference until we got to the airport. Within minutes of arriving, we stormed O’Hare airport, and one attendant’s mouth dropped when she saw us march up in a regimented group. Hilarious.

Airport food sucks.

Posted: October 24th, 2007
Categories: blog, travel
Tags: , ,
Comments: No Comments.

The Night Before…

… A trip is always a mix of anxiety and excitement. To travel once again!

I’m going to Japan, and I will try to post stories and pix from my trip.  The hostel where I will stay after November 1st has internet access. I can’t account for anything before then, because I simply don’t know what is happening. I know that between October 25th and November 1st, I will be training at a martial arts conference, hosted by Genbukan.

I’m excited and petrified.

Posted: October 24th, 2007
Categories: blog, travel
Tags: , ,
Comments: No Comments.

Dancing Coconut Tree

Last Sunday, I had the unique experience of being an extra in a commercial for a Nickelodeon production called Go Diego Go Live! Yes, it’s true. I was a dancing coconut tree. While I don’t have any actual footage of me at this point (I am eagerly awaiting some images from the producers), I found a clip that has the same costume I wore in it. Look for the dancing coconut tree guy, and that’s essentially what I wore.

It was wild, it was fun, and I will likely never do it again!

Again, the video doesn’t depict me at all. When I get my images, I will post them.

Posted: October 11th, 2007
Categories: blog
Tags: ,
Comments: 1 Comment.