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:: Sunday, March 26, 2006 ::

That Makes Sense



I was thinking... if I just repost here the emails I end up writing my mom anyway, I'll get more posting and telling done. :P So the voice is a little different than usual, and it's slightly edited, but here's what happened on my trip to Niigata ^_^

-

My trip was great. A *lot* of time on the train, though. Waaaay a lot of time. My bony butt really started to hurt after a while, no matter how I changed the way I was sitting. And on my way back from Tokyo I couldn't really sleep, since I didn't want to miss my connecting trains. All and all stuff was fun though. ^_^

My first day I trained up to Tokyo, and arrived there around seven pm. I had dinner and walked around Shinjuku, one of the hip neighborhoods of the city. From there I caught an overnight train up to Niigata. A stroke of luck, actually--when I reserved my ticket for the train the non-smoking section was full, so I was put in a smoking car. Sounds awful, but get this--since the non smoking car was full, everyone had to try and sleep in their own cramped seat. The smoking car was only 25% full, so I got to stretch out between two seats. I came out smelling like a bowling alley, but I was able to sleep.

I arrived in Niigata at the ungodly hour of 5:30 am. It was still pitch black out! I walked around the station, figuring it out, and stowed my luggage in the best located coin lockers I could find. I then went to the waiting room to doze for a bit, since it wasn't even seven am yet. Once it became light out I walked a little around the city. It kinda reminded me of Albany--the air had the sense of snow in it (even though there was none on the ground), and things looked unnaturally dead. -_^ (Truth be told, it was a national holiday that day.)

After a cup of tea I went to the tourist information office, asking what they reccomended, since it was raining out. They suggested an awesome little tea house, where I was served a traditional cup of tea ceremony tea. It's not like normal tea--it's made from a powder, and everyone says it's very bitter. I love the stuff, though. You're always given a sweet candy to follow the tea up, to help counter the taste.

I ended up missing a bus to my next destination, so I decided to walk, even if it was raining. I found some neat places on the way--a covered shopping arcade, an amazing shrine, a neato shopping center. I then decided to walk to the aquarium... and the rain got worse. I ended up finding the ocean by accident, which was very pretty, but the rain was awful by that time, and the ocean breeze just made it worse. By the time I got to the acquarium I was dripping from the knees down. Had a nice lunch of ramen soup there (the way they make it here is nothing like a cup of noodles), and saw all the fishies. After that I took the sightseeing bus back to the station to get my luggage, then headed to the hotel. By this time it had stopped raining. :P

I loooooooved my hotel. I got placed into a "ladies only" section, which got me a couple of perks, including the cutest little tea set, a foot bath machine thingie, and a little too much pink for my taste. But the bed was super comfortable, and even had a feather spread. There was also a routenburo, or outdoor hot spring bath, I got to enjoy. Very very nice indeed.

The last check out was 11 am, so I took advantage of that. ^_^ Once again dumped my things into a coin locker at the station, but not before buying all the omiyage, or presents, that I'm socially obliged to. That's why Japanese tourists buy so many things--they are expected to bring back gifts for pretty much everyone they know. My list isn't that big, but it does include my speaking partner, a couple of Japanese friends, and a gift to share with everyone in my dorm. So, all of that went into the locker.

Back to the tourist information place. Turns out there's a neat modern art museum. I went there... only to find out that it was closed for the day. >_< Waited 45 minutes to catch the next bus back, decide to go on a river cruise. ...only that wasn't running either. So instead I found another art museum, which was really neat. By the time I left it was evening, so I grabbed some dinner in a small hole in the wall restaurant. I loved being able to read the Japanese only menu. ^_^ I love the fact that I'm getting conversational in the language--it's opening up so many doors.

My train back was at 11:30 pm, so I killed the time in a couple of kissaten, or coffeehouses. One cup of overpriced brew buys you as much time to sit as you like--no hastles, no guilt. You can listen to the music, read the bunch of magazines they have there, talk with friends, or just soak up the atmosphere. The first place didn't have tea on the menu, so I ordered a weak coffee, then thinned it down with cream and sugar. Sure helped me drink it slowly. -_^ They were only open until nine, though, so I went to another place after that.

On the train back I asked for the smoking car on purpose. ^_^ Once again fairly empty, but more smoking this time around. Still slept okay considering, though.

Then hopped out at Tokyo. Went to get a ticket for the night train back to Kyoto... but it was full. No seats whatsoever. Well, I could have stayed on it for an hour, to be dropped off at a no-name town at one am with nowhere to go. So while I was planning a full day in Tokyo, I had to leave by 11 am to make sure I got back to Hirakata in time to catch the last bus back to the dorms. So I spent my morning in Ueno Park, since that is open at 7 am. Ueno is famous for it's cherry blossoms, and has a ton of museums and things (though of course they were closed at that hour). :P After that I headed to Ebisu for breakfast, took a peek at a beer museum there, and made a quick round of a photography museum. I wish I had hours to spend there! The exhibits were amazing. And the lady at the front desk spoke to me in fluent Japanese at speed, which I was very grateful for. There are lots of white business people in Ebisu, and she probably has to deal with people who don't know Japanese at all. As I went around people were talking down to me, assuming I can't speak Japanese very well if at all. The dignity of being spoken to at speed, without watering down the langauge, was appreciated.

Oh, by the way, that's one of the things that bugs me about Japan. Since everyone here looks the same, they know I'm different from the get go. It's very easy to assume that a white person is just a tourist, that they don't know the language. Whenever I go into Kyoto especially, people answer questions I ask in Japanese with English.

Me: "Hitori desu." [One ticket, please.]
Them: "Five hundred."
Me: "Aa, go-hyaku en desu ka?" [Oh, five hundred yen?]

I feel really sorry for those ex-pats who are truly fluent--it's something you can't shake off, same as you can't shake away your white skin. In America anyone you meet is possiblibly American, so this problem doesn't exist. It annoys me.

Anywho, after Ebisu I made it back to the train and started heading home. Due to some awesome connections it took less time than I thought, and I got back to the dorms around 10.

-

Ta-da! My trip in a nutshell. I owe you guys so many pictures... the guilt! But I'm working on it. ^_^

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