Monday, December 31, 2007

The People of Nara


The City of Nara is often recommended as a day trip when visiting Osaka or Kyoto. The plan was to stay 1 night there, then pack up and head to Kyoto the next day. My father and I ended up spending 3 days in Nara. Well worth it.

Nara was the capital of Japan for a period in the 7th century. This period was called, you guessed it, the Nara period. Nara brings up images of tame deer, bowing to you for some semba (rice crackers).

We lodged at a couchsurfing host. A few people who I had hosted in Kure had stayed in Nara before they stayed with me. They all recommended Mayumi's cafe, Youan. Mayumi-san is a sort of cultural ambassador I had heard. Sure enough, there was a festival going on and she arranged the local tour guide college to set us up with students to give us one-on-one tours.

The Kasuga Wakamiya festival dates back almost 1000 years. But we were treated to what could be called the openning ceremony I guess. At midnight we walked along the thousands of stone lanterns that line the way to Kasuga shrine. We reached our spot and waited. And waited. About an hour later, enjoying the 2 degree temperature, hundreds of monks, dressed in white, came running up the path. There were going to call the god from his resting place at the shrine, and bring him down to a temporary home. The god would reside here during the upcoming festival. We were told not to look at the god when he makes his way down, lest we be blinded.

And hour later, traditional music could be heard up the path. Then came the chanting. More like a cross between moaning and screaming, the monks had possession of the god. The electric lights went out and massive, 5 meter long torches were dragged down the path, leaving only the glowing embers as light. The moaning got louder and louder. The procession passed us as we stared at the ground. Peripheral vision viewing of the god was allowed, but it was too dark to see anyways.


I'll never tire of the tradition in Japan. I look out my window and see smokestacks and rooftops for miles, a solid contrast to the spirit that lies beneath.

Next: Photos from Osaka, then off to China.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Open Letter to the Chinese Guy Who Stole My Camera

Dear Chinese guy whole stole my camera,

Hey buddy. How's it going? Long time no see! Well... I never actually saw you, but you saw me! On my damn digital camera!

I know where you live... in Xian, population about 3 million. Or maybe you live in Guilin. Fuck it, I don't actually have any idea where you live. Congratulations, you win. Your prize is my camera. The same one you stole. You can have it.

I bought my Canon IXY digital camera about 8 months ago after I broke my Canon A700 during one of the notorious bicycle accidents. Although the IXY took shitty low light photos, and the landscape shots were nothing to blog about, it was tiny tiny and would power up and take a shot in half a second. A great camera for roadside monkey sightings.

I think you work at the airport. You also stole my dad's cell phone. But you didn't touch my ipod, which was right next to the camera. Did my collection of hip hop, new age forest music, and philosophy podcasts turn you off?

As part of my "Congratulations, you're finished having children molest you while you teach them pronouns" present, I bought a new Nikon D40. You, Mr. Sticky Fingers, didn't get to that one. I kept it bolted to my eye during my entire trip to China. Of course it takes better shots, but I can't really carry an SLR into museums for some candid artwork shots. I feel like a ninja who, though his sword may be deadly, feels naked without his shobo.

When I told my guide in Guilin that I had my camera stolen, he said in his deadpan way, "Well... this is China." It was funny.

So you have my camera, Mr. Zhong guo ren. I don't have many photos on it, just some macro shots of my ryokan dinner from Izu in Japan. Can you please send those to me? There's also random videos of Shinkansens, but you can just delete those.

Brian the wei guo ren.

Next: I went to Nara and then spent 11 days in China. My camera with all my good photos wasn't stolen, so I'm gonna try and get up my shots soon. From the Great Wall, to fake Gucci bags, to ... unusual ... food, there's a lot to show.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ride Report: Kure to Tokyo in 15 Hours

  • 1:00am - Somehow, even though I shipped everything ahead of time, my backpack weighed about 40 pounds. It went on the back of the bike, and I went on the middle.
  • 2:00am - Missed the turnoff to get to the expressway, so ended up taking the long way, about an hour extra on the slow roads.
  • 3:00am - Saw the sign about the temperature. 1 degree Celsius. Going 120km/h meant needing to stop every 20 minutes to warm up at the rest stops. Eventually started going 100, since that didn't hurt as bad.
  • 6:00am - Sitting at the Lake Biwa rest stop, drinking free tea and chatting with a local about John Lennon. She gave me her scarf when we parted ways. It helped.
  • 7:00am - Raining. Pulled over about 100km from Nagoya with a couple other riders.
  • 7:30am - Rain lets up.
  • 8:00am - Raining. Pulled over about 50km from Nagoya with a couple other riders.
  • 8:15am - Rain lets up.
  • 8:30am - The other riders and I are on a first name basis now. They point out that my front tire is totally bare. Great, now I'm paranoid ever time I change lanes. Still raining.
  • 10:00am - Clear skies.
  • 12:00pm - It's nice and sunny now. I fall asleep on a bench at a rest stop and get half my face sunburned.
  • 2:00pm - 100km from Tokyo
  • 3:00pm - Pay the toll. About $125. The toll attendant gives me a high five for riding across the country.
  • 4:00pm - Parked at the guest house.

My last bike trip. The bike will be put up for auction tomorrow by a friend who does that sort of thing here in Japan. My international driving permit just expired, so I need to get a proper Japanese license. It's crazy hard, this driving test. It's like a complicated dance, or a traditional Noh play, or dating a Persian girl, where every move needs to be perfect. Didn't touch your left mirror at exactly this time? Fail. Didn't put both hands on the bike before getting on? Fail. Now ride across a balance beam in more than 30 seconds. Use of brakes and clutch must be exact. Fail...

I'll get a new bike when the time is right. Something with a bit more kick than the tiny 400cc Honda.

The parental unit is coming to town in a few days. I need to figure out what out-of-towners should see in Tokyo.

Next: 6 day tour of Japan and 12 in China, followed by a 2 day ferry back. New Years in Tokyo? I'll give it a 50/50 chance.

Monday, December 03, 2007


Miyajima (宮島) is one of the "famous 3" views of Japan. The other 2 are in Sendai and Kyoto. Miyajima is most well known for it's floating Tori gate, which was built at low tide so that it appears to be floating in high tide. It is also known for it's abundance of maple trees. Autumn is the time to go.

I couldn't sleep last night, didn't sleep until 3am, then woke up at 5am. Fell back asleep, and between 5am and 8am, I dreamed that I went to Miyajima, but didn't see anything. It was an awful dream, and I assumed that when I finally did wake up, that maybe I had overslept and would never have the chance to go.

I thought I'd be stuck in Kure in some sort of cruel cosmic joke.

But don't worry, this is a happy story.

With deer!

The Lonely Planet Hiking in Japan book says to hike to the top of Mt. Misen (弥山) on the island. Don't argue with the experts. If you are interested in this hike, make sure you go up as far from the main trail as possible. There was a total of 0 people in this hike with me. There was a total of a billion red, orange, and yellow leaves.

There's all sorts of temples involved in the equation. Since Miyajima is a major tourist destination, the temples are pristine. Go early and avoid the crowds.

This one is named Daisho-in (大聖院) and it's pretty amazing. Just past, about 1km away, is the base of the trail. You won't see anymore temples for a while.

Enjoy nature. Hug that shit.

Hike for a couple hours, try and avoid the wild monkeys.

Keep going, it's just a little further.

The views are incredible. The Seto Sea islands, Shikoku is far off in the distance, and of course Hiroshima is right there.

Thats Kure in the distance there.

There's some more temples further along. One of them has a fire that has been burning (according to legend) for over 1000 years. There is a pot of water over this smoky fire and plenty of cups. Help yourself. This was the fire used to light the Hiroshima Peace Flame. Now that's some cool shit!

It tastes like charcoal.

Take the normal path down, it's fast.

Make sure you pick up at least 1 piece of trash along the way. Just do it. Put it in your pocket or something. It's a karma thing. Then get some udon.

If you've taken your time, the tide will be opposite of whatever it was when you started. So take in another view of the tori gate.

With deer!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

1 Week Left

The plural weeks becomes the singular week. The new teacher arrives tomorrow. All this random shit is packed. 5 boxes for the takyubin, which is that magical intra-Japan delivery service. The one where you can ship from the closest 7-11 or Lawsons or Family Mart convenience store. Who needs a post office when the Quicky Mart is a magical oasis of do-everything. Pay your bills, wire money, buy porn, eat delicious foods, and of course ship all your crap.

A week from now I'll be getting ready for the coldest ride of my life. Last night on the news, something about snow coming to Nagano. The route takes me 'round that way. A layer of running tights, followed by a layer of my flannel pajamas, followed by some think jeans, a lined motorcycle jacket, 2 pair of gloves, probably 2 pair of socks, a neck warmer, and a dream. Maybe I should make it 3 pairs of gloves. Put gloves in one bucket and dreams in another, see which one fills up first. Or is it shit and wishes... I forget, I don't really speak English anymore.

The new place is a guest house. Back to dorm living. It's been, what, like 10 years since I lived in the Hedrick dorm of UCLA. A lifetime ago. A friend who has lived at this particular guest house before said it is something like Melrose Place. Not sure what exactly to make of that. All I know is that it's a 5 minute drive from the Chuo Expressway (quick access to Fuji, all them lakes, and nature nature nature), about the same from the Kan-Etsu Expressway (Kawagoe!!!!), and right next to the JR Chuo train line (8 minutes to Shinjuku). Wanna see a preview of where I'll be living? Click -->Here<--. Gotta love the site design. What should my first meal at the new place be? I'm thinking, since it's dorm-ish, a nice delivered pizza would be great.

This is the current winter special pizza. Let me try to translate. Half is king crab, shrimp, corn, broccoli, and mayonnaise. The other half is beef with demiglasse sauce. Not enough? The crust is stuffed with shrimp that have been stuffed with mayonnaise. And I count 7 exclamation marks on the flyer. It's times like this that I wish I liked mayonnaise. Guess I'll just settle for Okonomiyaki... hold the mayo.

Dammit, now I'm hungry, but I strategically planned it so I would be out of food when I moved out. Just a bottle of Johnny Walker on the counter...

Next: I still have one adventure left out here... Miyajima. After that it's off to Tokyo, for like 2 days of visa paperwork and trying to get on unemployment. Then off to China with my Dad. Then a ferry back to Japan on December 31st. Then a job.