Friday, January 28, 2005

Sometimes you just need a day off...

On the way to Osaka we stop in at Himeji and walk from the train station up to the largest castle in Japan Himeji-jo. Looking up at this ancient place is a spectacular sight, and I believe this may be the finest castle I have ever seen. Just outside Himeji is also the site for the filming of The Last Samurai, although it does not look like we will have time to make it up there.

Arriving at Osaka late we head for the nearest hostel only to find that it feels like a dentist office with rooms, oh and by the way you better be in before 11pm or you get to sleep on the street. We decide to take a chance with a Japanese capsule hotel. This proves to be one of the best decisions we could have made. As we approach the hotel we realize we are in one of the seedier areas of Osaka with love hotels (rent by the hour) all around us and the people to share them with winking from the corner. Despite this, there is a lively spirit in the air and we nervously push through the door. It is obvious at once that this is not the normal place for a couple of wandering backpackers but very fortunately we are greeted by an older man who speaks great english and realizing we are just a couple of stupid kids seems to take it to heart to make sure nothing bad happens to us. This seems to be common place in Japan, most of the people give us a very warm feeling. We ask to see our "rooms" and he takes us up the dark elevator. Sure enough, two rooms with 8 capsules, a little hole in the wall for each of us. We decide to go for it and he declares that the bath house is on the 8th floor.

Please bare with me while I take a moment to comment on the reality of normal life. While living out our daily lives we take for granted the fact that we know exactly how to act in this situation or that, we know the proper protocol, the proper etiquette. In the rare circumstance that we do not, we know when and how to ask the person next to us. None of this was true or possible as we walked into our first Japanese bathhouse, here on the 8th floor of the Capsule Inn in the middle of the seediest part of Osaka.

Needless to say, we not only survive the experience, but so enjoy it that instead of choosing to see more temples and shrines in Kyoto we decide to rest from our travel. We spend the day in the most luxurious of fashion - sleeping, eating, pampering ourselves and satisfyingly take the day off from our difficult jobs as travelers.

88 Temples

With Mt. Fuji behind us we travel to the small town of Marugame on the island of Shokoku where we stay with Brian's friend Ian who is teaching English in the town. It turns out he's a great host and we began to get some insight into the lives of people teaching over seas. As I talk to the people I think it is a bit of a lonely life, they certainly come to know an area well but do not have the constant interaction we have been lucky enough to have thus far. There is a group of teachers in the area, mostly American an English girl and an Aussie. I spend a few hours chatting to Mariko a Japanese girl who also teaches english in the area. She has travelled quite a bit and speaks English well. She is able to provide a lot of information about the various things we had been seeing. Our first night turns into a ruckus party after the "few drinks" we had decided to have turn into a few more. Late in the evening Alex the English girl tells us "We are the most exciting thing thats happened in Marugame in months."

On his weekend Ian takes us to a beautifull Shinto Shrine on the mountain side in Kotohira, a nice temple in Tzenjuki and teaches us a little history in the area, check out the story of Kobe Daishi if you are interested. We decide to move on to Osaka to be our gateway to the area of Kyoto for more shrines and temples.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Haiku`s and Snafu`s

After a quintessential Tokyo weekend, we began our exploration of the Japanese country side. Heading south west toward Mt. Fuji, we discovered the efficiency of the Japanese rail system the Shinkansen. By noon we had arrived in Gotembo at the base of Fuji-san. Even more majestic in person, the mountain is a stunning source of inspiration. Unfortunately, we were a little off the beaten path and after taking a local bus toward the mountain we found ourselves abandoned on the side of the road at what appeared to be some sort of Japanese military camp. We wandered in, in search of a nice place to sit and have a cup of tea and immediately realized our mistake. Small arms, and mortar fire was going off all around us! So we proceeded toward a little picnic area marked "Refuge Area".

Despite our obviously not belonging there, no one seemed perturbed and we had a great view of Mt. Fuji, so we decided to sit and write ourselves a few Haiku`s. Have some peanut butter sandwhiches and thanks to some superior Japanese Vending Machine technology were even able to get a hot cup of tea!

We took some great pictures, and miraculously the bus showed up exactly as we decided to leave.

From there we travelled south to Marugame on the island of Shokoku to meet our crazy friend Ian. More adventures to follow.

Oh, unfortunately Brian`s lost his camera... so the Fuji pics are now a little sparse.

Life, is still good.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Bright lights, blazing nights and sumo fights....

Well, two nights in Tokyo and life's been wild. Big city fun in a place crazier than any. The people here are great. We arrived late on Thursday night after a long flight and managed to figure out the train system (with a little help) and made it to our hostel. In we walk and its like a funky party, with a bunch of kids around all drinkin and smokin. What a crazy place to stay - we're in love with this place. (Guess T House)

There is a Sumo Basho on here in Tokyo which finishes this Sunday. What a lucky break since there is only a few here a year! So we spent the day Friday with our new friend Kristin (pic to come), at the basho watching 400 pound monsters shove each other around the dohyo with scrupulous ceremony! What a time!

After this we were famished, and decided some sushi here in Japan was a must... I think we got more sake than sushi but Rapongi (party district) was great! As some of you know, we finally made it in after a wild night around 6 am. Funny I thought the metro was always open, turns out it was just morning. We're heading back out tonight, off to Shinjuku - Times Square of Tokyo.

Life is good.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Ready To Ride

Well, here we are. Almost midnight, sleepin at Ryan's, and finally ready to hit the road. Packs are packed, stuffs in storage and minds are open. First stop - Tokyo.

If you haven't met my company, he's known as Mr. Brian David Vankeuren. Friend of 6 years... and conduit to many travels thus far, with many more to come.

He's posting at