After the Wedding

My flight out the next morning was not super early, which gave me time to find a Starbucks café for some breakfast.  I was not feeling 100%, so I was really grateful that Past Jodi had thought to put me on a later flight.  I made it to the airport with only minimal confusion (and getting off the train at the wrong time when I should have waited), but I made it all the same.  From there I checked my back at the self-service machines.  For those of you who have never had the fun of using the self-service baggage machines at Haneda, I should explain.  First, you put your suitcase in this little cubby.  Then you go through the normal questions on the screen next to the cubby:

No, nothing will blow up.

No, nothing is too sharp.

No, I did not pack my dog.

Or whatever.  After that, the machine prints out your baggage tag and you secure it on the handle.  You don’t even have to remove a sticker backing on the tags or anything! They are just sticky in the right part, eliminating that sticker backing that lives in your pocket until you remember it’s there and see a trashcan.  Then a mesh door descends and seals your luggage into the cubby.  The machine weighs the bag.  Then, if it finds the bag acceptable, the back wall of the cubby surprises you and turns into a door.  Not only that, but it’s also actually a conveyor belt or something and your bag is whisked away.  The machine prints a small baggage claim ticket and you are on your way.  Pair that with automatic check-in and you don’t have to interact with another human until security.

Before going through security, though, I headed upstairs to a small café I visited with Aunt Marty during her visit.  I had a filling lunch and managed to eat by myself without feeling the need to stare at my phone the whole time.  Then, as I went to leave, I had a small moment of panic.  Where is my suitcase?!  This is what happens if you are used to traveling with only carry-on luggage. After a moment of laughing at myself for what just happened, I was off to security.

Once through the security check-point, I went in search of my gate since there isn’t much else to do past security in a Japanese airport.  I am not sure why, but Japanese airports have always confused me a bit.  Most of the restaurants and shops are outside of security.  However, there is almost no extra seating outside of security.  Past security, there is plenty of seating, but not much else.  Typically, you’ll find an ANA Café with one remaining bento that no one else wanted to buy, ice cream, and gum.  If you’re really lucky, there might be a tiny Starbucks somewhere.  In the end, you can’t do much but find yourself an outlet, set up your electronic entertainment of choice, and pretend the rest of the airport does not exist.

As the plane’s boarding time approached, I started to notice more and more familiar faces at the gate with me.  Apparently, that was the weekend that all Hyuga-ites made their pilgrimages to Tokyo.  I even ran into a friend who I had not seen in a while.  We ended up hanging out at one of the cafes in the Miyazaki Airport while we waited for our trains.  By the time, I made it home it was a little past 7, which left me just enough time to unpack and shower.  I try to unpack as soon as I get home, even if I would rather go straight to sleep or shower.  I have found that if I don’t unpack immediately (even if it’s just a day or two later), it can take months for me to unpack completely.   So far, the method works for me.  I hope I can keep it up in the future.

Cherri`s Wedding

The wedding was not until the afternoon on Saturday, so I had some time to kill in the morning.  I decided to head out in search of Starbucks some kind of cardigan or shawl for the dress I was wearing to the wedding.  When I was packing I thought that I would be fine with the dress, but I was starting to get a little worried I would be chilly.  Shopping proved unsuccessful, but I was able to waste a few hours.  I headed back to my hotel to get ready.  The wedding was a bit of a train-transfer-train ride away, but one I was prepared for.  I brought wore my Toms on the way and brought my heels in my bag.  By the time I made it to the wedding hall, I was a little sweaty, but that is sort of the expected state for one existing in Tokyo in late May.

I had made a point of being a little later to arrive than I normally would be and my plan more or less worked. I was definitely not the first person there.  After checking my big bag (and shoes) at the coat check, I scanned the room for anyone I knew.  I knew one person.  I locked on and went straight for her.  And that was the start of the day of Surprisingly Social Jodi.  I chatted, I joked, I made new Facebook friends.  All in all, a social success.  I even struck up a conversation with a few people waiting in the same lines as me.

The ceremony was sweet, short, and to the point.  Cherri is first generation American and her husband, Eric, is Korean, so I was expecting an interesting mix of cultures throughout the event.  I was definitely not disappointed.  The ceremony was conducted in English and Japanese and was beautiful.  Probably one of the highlights was Eric going to kiss Cherri but Cherri was laughing too hard for it to work.  I am not normally one to get emotional at things like weddings, but as I get older I’m noticing it happens more and more often.  I couldn’t help but get a little teary eyed at how happy Cherri and Eric looked.

After the ceremony, we moved upstairs to the reception hall.  I was seated at a table with the other people from our university, including our former Japanese native speaker (kind of like an assistant teacher) and my JET/ Drake University Japanese senpai (senior student) who I had connected with on Facebook but never actually met.  I did not have much to eat, but I had a great time talking with everyone.

During the reception, Cherri had the traditional bouquet toss, but with a slight twist.  Instead of actually throwing the bouquet, she threw a small teddy bear.  I believe her sister caught it.  After that, it was the guys’ turn.  Eric, the groom, threw a head of broccoli to them, but it took three tries for anyone to catch it.  The first time, one of guys intercepted the broccoli and smacked it to the ground.  The second time, it ended up going across the room (somehow) and the M.C. picked it up.  Finally, on the third try, one of the guys actually grabbed it.

Between the reception and the after party, we had a few hours to kill, so I suggested heading to a café (like Starbucks) to waste the time and sit for a bit.  While we were all milling about outside on the sidewalk trying to organize ourselves enough to go, I noticed another woman just standing around, clearly unsure where to go.  So, I invited her along.  In our, now smaller (because most people from our table couldn’t attend the after party), group, we headed off to Starbucks.  It turns out that the new non-Drake addition to our group is also a JET and she knew Cherri from high school.  We had a good time getting to know each other before it was time to find the karaoke location.

By that point in the evening, however, I decided that it was time to make some new friends.  So I slipped away from the group I had been hanging out with and, instead, spent some time with one of the people I knew from earlier.  In the end, I spent most of the karaoke party with a bunch of people from Iowa who knew Cherri from high school.

When the party finally ended, I knew I needed to get some food in me or face the consequences come the next morning.  My friend, Ayaka, kindly offered to help me find both the train station and some food.  After the first McDonalds she swore was just around the corner, wasn’t, we were desperate.  We were talking loudly (I was loudly complaining about how hungry I was and she was laughing at my plight) as we wandered around the area.  We were speaking mostly in English, probably attracting a lot of attention in the process.  I saw one man listening to our conversation as he walked towards a taxi.  At some point, I switched into Japanese and complained loudly about how hungry I was (in Japanese).  The man listening was so surprised he ended up walking into the side of the taxi.

We finally found a burger place through dumb luck.  The sign boasted 100% beef, so I was more than happy to eat there.  We spent a while just chatting and eating, which was nice.  Ayaka had been an exchange student at Drake my sophomore year of college, when I was just starting to study Japanese, but we had never really hung out.  This was the first time I had a chance to get to know her one on one.  Eventually we made our way to the train station, said our goodbyes, and went our separate ways.

I got back to the hotel sometime after midnight.  Happy, full of burgers, and exhausted.

To Tokyo

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of being invited to my university friend’s, Cherri’s, wedding in Tokyo.  As I have almost no vacation time left, I had to make the trip to Tokyo a short one, but I knew it would be worth it.  I left for Tokyo almost immediately after work.  I had agonized over what to pack and how I was going to fit it all into a carry-on when I remembered one important point: I’m an adult and the airline I was flying had free checked luggage.  There was absolutely no reason to try and shove it all into a carry-on.  With that in mind, I packed a small suitcase, checked in it, and was able to fly with just my messenger bag.  It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve been able to travel with so little on me.

As soon as I got through security, I had my first little excitement of the trip.  My school’s entire baseball team was there, waiting for their flight.  They were also on their way to Tokyo, but thankfully on an earlier flight than me.  The flight to Tokyo would have been amusing with all of them on the same flight, I’m sure.  However, as I’ve always struggled with motion sickness, getting sick on the airplane is a very real possibility.  A possibility I definitely don’t need all of my students seeing and then messaging their friends about.  We chatted before their flight.  At one point I had about 12 of them standing around me in a semi-circle, wanting to talk to me but unsure what questions to ask.  Those are the kinds of moments I’ll miss.

After they boarded their plane, I had a little time to kill in the airport before my flight.  Unfortunately, Miyazaki airport is probably one of the worst airports to kill time in inside of security.  My flight to Tokyo was uneventful other than a bit of turbulence and I managed to make it to the airport without using the airsick bag.  Once I picked up my suitcase, I decided to try my luck navigating the trains to my hotel, but I allowed myself the option of a taxi if I couldn’t do it.  I made it through two of the three train transfers, but by the second train station, my ankle was about ready to give out.  I decided a taxi ride was in order.

That was my second adventure of the trip.  The taxi driver had no idea where I needed to go so I ended up navigating for us using Google Maps on my phone.  We had a nice chat, but the taxi ended up being much more expensive (though not outrageously so for a 20-minute drive in Tokyo) than I was hoping.  I made it to the hotel in once piece, checked in, and retired to my room.  The room was lovely, if small.  It had a card-key lock, which is common enough in bigger cities, but it difficult to find in Miyazaki.  After a quick run to the nearest convenience store for supplies, I was done for the day.

 

The Route Back to Miyazaki

After our island adventure, it was time for me to head back to Miyazaki.  By this point, the route back from Jen’s is a familiar one.  I know what I need to do to make it as painless as possible.  After a quick snack for breakfast, Jen drove me to the port.  We hugged and tried to part without thinking about the fact that we might not see each other for another year or more.  She’s heading back to America for sure, her Japanese adventure finished, but I have no idea where I am going to be come September.  I might be in Colorado, I might be in Japan, I might be in a third, not yet considered place.

Placing those thoughts firmly out of my mind, I boarded the ferry and found myself a patch of carpet near one of the windows.  I have discovered that a combination of reading, motion sickness medicine, and lying on my stomach is the best way to avoid getting seasick on these ferry rides.  I was doing just that when I felt a tap on my shoulder.  A group of old men and women were basically having a little picnic nearby and they offered me some food.  Thus conforming to one of the old axioms of life in Japan: if an old person sees you, they will eventually offer you food.  It might be a few days, but sooner or later, you will get food.  Said food often comes in forms you would not expect (and sometimes cannot identify), but it is (almost) always edible.

I thanked them and joined their picnic for a little bit, doing my best to make polite conversation.  Normally, I should have offered them something in return, but I had no snacks or food to share with me.  I also was having a very difficult time understanding their “old people Japanese”, and mostly just ended up nodding and making listening noises.  Eventually I excused myself to return to my stomach-lying and book reading.  Sometime during the trip I got up and walked a few laps around the boat, but the trip was otherwise uninteresting.

When I arrived on Kyushu, I went to grab a taxi, only to discover there were none waiting.  I hesitated for a moment, hoping one would show up, but when none did, I did the (for old Jodi) unthinkable: I called a taxi.  In Japanese and everything.  There were a few communication issues (namely my pronunciation of the word “ferry”) but eventually we reached an understanding.  I hung up, feeling very accomplished.

Then a taxi showed up.  The taxi was from a separate company and the driver ended up just staring at my awkwardly for a few moments like, “So….taxi?”  I had an internal debate as to whether I should hop in this cab or wait for mine, but eventually my desire to avoid the guilt of the other taxi showing up and not finding me there won out.  I waited.  It wasn’t much longer until the taxi I requested showed up to whisk me away to the train station.

After a short wait there, I hopped on the train and settled in for a long ride.  The ride was boring, but I was able to watch a few TV shows on my iPad to pass the time.  I managed to get home around 3 pm, do some laundry, and vegetate for the rest of the evening.  It was just the small break I needed.

Now, Naoshima

The next morning we were at the train station bright and early.  We had a very long train ride between us and the ferry we would need to catch, so we had plenty of time to chat and catch up.  Jen is the kind of friend I might go weeks without talking to, but whenever we are together we click back into our old routine.  We finally arrived in the port city of Takamatsu in Kagawa Prefecture.  Since it was lunch time, Jen suggested we stop at one of Kagawa’s famous Sanuki Udon restaurants.  Before that, though, we had to make a brief stop at a kind of nearby Gap store because I had completely forgotten to pack a jacket or sweater of any kind and I thought the boat was going to be chilly.

I found something on sale and we headed off to lunch.  Lunch was delicious, even though Jen and I had been a bit over-ambitious when we ordered medium sized servings instead of small.  I should have taken a picture, but the place was so crowded and we were so hungry that it would have been very difficult.

Now armed with an extra layer of insulation (from the lunch as well as the Gap), we boarded the ferry to Naoshima.  The ferry was decorated with the iconic polka dots of one of the artists whose work is featured on Naoshima, Yayoi Kusama.

I recently saw an exhibit of hers at the art museum in her hometown of Matsumoto, Nagano.  My eyes have trouble with sharply contrasting patterns (like black and white stripes, or the really thin stripes/ checkered pattern on my students’ uniforms), so I was not a huge fan, but she does have some interesting pieces.

For example, her pumpkins on Naoshima have become rather iconic and they are the most popular place to take selfies on the island.

Jen wanted to rent bikes, so we did.  We rented two mamacharis (read: Japanese street bikes from hell) for our island adventure.  Mamacharis have no gears and for some ungodly reason the handle bars are basically up at your shoulders.  After riding mine for ten seconds I started to understand why people on the mamacharis in front of me always seem to have trouble riding in a straight line.  I also started to understand why my students ride so slowly on them.  It’s impossible to be fast and keep your balance on those things.

The benefit of the bikes was that my ranting and creative cursing about the bikes (I hope) provided endless entertainment for Jen, who seemed to have significantly less trouble than I did.  I would like to chalk that up to the fact that I ride a mountain bike every day, whereas she is more used to road bikes.  I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s what I’m going to say.

We did not go inside any of the museums on the island (because money, but also because I was pretty sure I smelled like I had been rolling around in the grass due to how much I was sweating.  The sweater I had gotten sat forgotten in the bike’s basket as I sweated more than I thought physically possible) but we did have fun biking around the tiny place and taking pictures of the area.

We eventually called it a day and headed back to the port.  After a brief moment of panic when Jen couldn’t find her phone (we found it in the basket of the bikes we had returned a few minutes prior), we ran into one of Jen’s friends we had seen earlier.  The three of us grabbed a snack and boarded the ferry back.

A giant green tea macaroon. More sugar than I have ever needed. I regretted it afterwards on the boat, but it was delicious at the time.

When we got back to Takamatsu, we parted ways with Jen’s friend.  Now two of us again, we went to Tully’s for coffee and a place to relax until it was time to get on the train.  I really missed just hanging out with Jen and having coffee.  Considering she used to live about 10 minutes apart, it has been strange being separated by a 5-ish hour journey these past four years.  And it is going to be stranger still to be a 12-hour drive away once we leave Japan.

Eventually it was time to get on the train.  I think we were both regretting eating those macaroons earlier, because we both ended up slouching in our seats, begging the train to stop moving.  The journey was made worse by the fact that we had to make a transfer in Matsuyama.  The first train we were on was probably the newest in the fleet.  There were outlets EVERYWHERE.  I charged my phone by plugging it into my seat’s armrest!  Even out by the bathrooms there were outlets and little ledges on the windows so people who couldn’t get a seat could still charge their phones.

And then we transferred to what was probably the oldest train still running in Japan, perhaps the world.  The thing still had smoking and non-smoking signs on the cars.  By the time we reached Yawatahama, near where Jen lives, we were both pretty groggy.  Still, doing Naoshima as a daytrip from Ehime is no easy feat, so I am impressed we even made it.  It was a little expensive, but worth it as our potential last trip in Japan together.

The Trip to Ehime

Japan is famous for its loosely themed islands.  From the Bunny Island, to Ghost Island, to Cat Island, Japan has a wide variety of interesting islands that many people never see.  As I am no fan of furry things (I enjoy breathing and not having itchy eyes), Naoshima, or the Art Island, seemed like the only one I could visit.  As such, when I reached out to Jen about our bi-annual get together, we decided that a trip to Naoshima would be the perfect thing.  As an added benefit, Naoshima also happens to be in Kagawa, a prefecture I had yet to visit.  Before we went to Naoshima, I had to make to Jen’s prefecture, Ehime.

After work on Friday, I hopped on a train up to Usuki, the port to the north of me.  The train ride was uneventful, but I did finally see “Star Wars: Rogue One” on the way up, which was nice.  I can’t let myself become too disconnected from Western Pop culture.

I arrived at the port, grabbed some udon for dinner, and waited to board the ferry.  Japanese ferries can be set up very differently from one another depending on how long they take to get where they are going.  Under an hour and they’ll probably look like the kinds of ferries we see in America: the kinds of seats you would find on a bus, or wooden benches.  Two hours and you get the kind of ferry I rode to get to Ehime.

There are a few seats for people willing to pay for an upgraded seat.  There is also a hotel-like room or two for people who for some reason can’t stand to not be in a bed, or those who are on the last ride of the evening.  People can spend the night on the last ferry of the day so they don’t have to pay for a night in a hotel.  For the people who want the absolute cheapest ticket, your ticket allows you to basically sit wherever you can find space.  That might mean camping out in the café area, sitting on a bench outside, or, more likely, finding your own bit of carpet in the lowest class passenger area.  This area is divided into what can best be described as “pens.”  Ten people could probably lay flat in a pen.  Each pen is surrounded by a waist-high wall of cabinets containing life jackets and foam blocks covered in pleather that count as pillows.

I always make sure to grab a bit of carpet by the window.  I also rarely get sick on the boat (except for the one time I rode it during a typhoon), which is nice, because it means I can pass the time reading.  I arrived at the port, disembarked with the other three passengers who didn’t bring their cars along, and was picked up by Jen.  On the way back to Jen’s place, we stopped at her boyfriend’s apartment so I could drop off some puzzles and things I’ve been meaning to ship to him and Jen and kept forgetting.

Then we headed to Jen’s.  The next morning we were going to be out bright and early, so we tried to get to bed as soon as possible.

Back to Miyazaki

On the last day of Golden Week, I woke up at the same time I had been waking up every day, despite my best efforts.  My flight wasn’t until 1:45 and Chubu Airport is not one in which you want to hang out past security longer than absolutely necessary, from what I could remember.  When Jen and I had flown out of the airport four years prior, we were desperately hungry and bored for however long we spent waiting.  This was made even worse by the fact that you can see the international terminal from the domestic one and the international terminal had Starbucks.

That morning I tried to kill time as long as I could, but there was only so much I could do in my slightly-bigger-than-the-bed-itself hotel room.  Eventually I caved and went downstairs to checkout before hauling my bag and self to the nearby Starbucks.  Because at Starbucks I would still be killing time, but with coffee.  Despite drinking my drink as slowly as possible, I still eventually finished it and decided to just go to the airport.

It ended up being a good thing that I did go early because the trains were a little tricky.  Eventually I made it to the airport.  Outside of security there’s more to do and eat than inside, so I went to find a luggage locker to drop my stuff off so I could explore.  When I saw that lockers not only cost 600 yen, but also required actual coins instead of my super handy train pass that I can use for just about everything, I decided against it.  Instead, I just buckled the incredibly flattering waist-belt thing on my backpack to take pressure off my shoulders and soldiered on.

I grabbed some chicken wings and fried chicken for lunch as anything else required too long of a line.  When I figured I had done as much as I could do outside of security, I went through.  Last time I went through security at Chubu Airport, my bag got searched due to a small Hot Wheels car that I always have with me when I travel.  I don’t know if I have explained the car before, but to summarize: When I was little my aunt gave me a Hot Wheels car.  I decided that since I had no “lucky” things (like a lucky hat or socks) that this car would be lucky.  From that point on, I had it with me every time I traveled.  When I got older and was headed to Costa Rica, I decided to leave the car at home because it wasn’t really lucky anyway, it was just something I had made up.

Then our flight got delayed twice, then ultimately cancelled.  There’s a picture of my friend looking very upset with me because he knew about the car and knew I didn’t bring it, thus blaming me.  In the end we had to transfer to another airport and get a flight there.  Since then, I’ve always had the car with me when I travel, so I was a little worried I would get stopped again.  Thankfully, there were no problems.  Security asked to check my water bottle, which they always do, but as soon as they saw it was still sealed I was sent right through.

The airport hasn’t changed much in the past few years, but they have added a really nice cafe in the domestic terminal.  Every piece of furniture had an outlet built into it.  That table?  Outlet.  That lamp? Outlet.  That art piece you thought was just for decoration?  Outlet.  I found a comfy chair, had a snack, and watched some shows on my iPad for a few hours.  When flying to Miyazaki, nine times out of ten, I’m going to end up in the bus terminal of the airport.  The part of the terminal where you load a bus to take you across the tarmac to your airplane that is too small to hook up to the jet bridge/ small enough to make you slightly concerned for your safety when you notice a few people have particularly heavy looking pieces of carry-on luggage.  The terminal is also a) downstairs, b) devoid of any shops, and c) devoid of any kind of interesting view.  It’s better to leave going down there to the last minute if it can be avoided.  The only benefit is that it’s like to be d) devoid of any people as well, which means you’re guaranteed a seat in an otherwise crowded airport.

The flight was uneventful and I even made an early train home than I was planning on taking.  A short taxi ride and I was home.  Thanks to Past Jodi’s foresight, I even had some food frozen and waiting for me so I wouldn’t have to leave the apartment.  I even managed to get unpacked completely before letting myself sleep.

Gifu

On Saturday, I had signed myself up for a tour to the only two places in Gifu-ken that I saw recommended regularly online: Takayama and Shirakawa-go.  Takayama is a pretty, old town and Shirakawa-go is Unesco World Heritage Site.  My friend Beth had gone a few year’s early and I remembered how much she loved it, so it seemed like a good place to check out.  The easiest way to get to these two places was via a guided tour.  I also figured that a tour would help give me some sort of historical/cultural context for what I was seeing.

I was up bright and early for the 7:20 am meeting time, but I had some trouble finding the meeting point.  Thankfully, I spotted another foreigner waiting for the tour and was able to ask for his help.  Unfortunately, he was from Glasgow.  I only say unfortunately because I have a notoriously hard time understanding the Glaswegian accent.  When I was studying in Scotland, my friends had to translate for me.  Now the problem is even worse because my brain seems to assume that any thick accent is Japanese and when it doesn’t make sense, my brain doesn’t know how to cope.  Eventually I was able to figure it out and got checked in.

The tour itself was…well, the transportation was really convenient.  The guide part of the tour was lacking/ non-existent.  She was mostly just there to tell us when to get on and off the bus.  That was disappointing.  As a result, I ended up just wandering around taking pictures of stuff without really knowing why it was significant.  I’ll have to do some research on it so I can contextualize what I saw.  Overall, it was a lot of time on the bus, but with enough breaks that only the last leg felt truly unbearable.

The upside is that I got some really nice pictures and I can finally say I’ve been to Gifu Prefecture, making that my 27th prefecture.

Our second stop was Shirakawa-go which is famous for it’s houses.  The houses were built in such a way to deal with both the extreme snowfall in the winter and the extreme in whatever season is known for that.

 

I didn’t get back to the hotel until around 8 that night, but I think for the busses and meal alone it was money well spent.

Nagano

On Friday of my trip, I woke up as early as usual and headed straight to the train station.  I was planning on going to Nagano to cross another prefecture off my list.  Nagano was only about an hour away, but to get to any real tourist attractions in the prefecture by train, I had to head to Matsumoto which is much further north.  I was committed to this plan…until I saw how much the ticket would actually cost me.

I actually stopped in the middle of buying the ticket, stepped off to the side so other people could use the machine, and spent some time researching other options that might be cheaper.  I could probably get to Shizuoka Prefecture for cheaper, but was it worth it?  I had done all the research for Matsumoto, not for Shizuoka.

In the end, I bit the bullet and bought the tickets to Matsumoto.  After all, I wanted to see the Japanese Alps and that was my plan for the day.  I might be much more flexible than I was when I first arrived in Japan, but sometimes my rigidity is an asset.  I was trying to make excuses and I knew I would regret not going if I changed my mind (or, worse yet, visited Universal Studios Japan, again, like I briefly considered doing).  The train ride was long, but with my rule in mind about spending an equal amount of time in the destination as the time I spent getting there, I set off to explore.

I saw this cool thing along the way.  Matsumoto is apparently famous for a traditional Japanese art of wrapping balls in cool patterns using strings.

I eventually made my way to Matsumoto-jo, or Matsumoto Castle.  Matsumoto-jo is famous for its black walls.  I really wanted to go inside to get a better view of the mountains.  I bought my ticket to go inside, but once inside, I found out there was a 2 hour wait to even get inside the castle.  That did not count the time I would be spending trudging in a line of people up to the top.  Nor did it count the time I would spend battling people at the top, trying to get to a window or open space so I could take pictures.

In the end, I decided I did not have the patience for it.  I took a bunch of pictures of the outside, got some tea, and headed on.

The next point of interest was an old school to the north of the castle.  The school was one of the first in Japan to mix Japanese and Western architecture.  I like architecture and history so I thought, sure, why not.  (Besides, it had a bunch of Pokestops inside.)

The museum ended up being as weird of a blend of Japanese and English as the architecture was.  Information was translated into English seemingly at random.  One room might not have a single English explanation while another might have more English than Japanese.  I will say, though, that when there was English available, it was flawless.

The school was an interesting history lesson, but it was time to move on.  My next stop was an art museum, because why not.  I normally don’t like art museums.  I like art, but I am never sure how long I am supposed to stand in front of a painting or sculpture.  Is a second enough?  Do I have to stand there for several minutes?  What am I supposed to be thinking beyond, “That is nice art.  I like this art?”  But I made myself walk around the whole museum.  I was surprised that I actually recognized some of the artists like Kandinsky (which I only recognized because my mom likes him).

The focal point of the museum was the work of Yayoi Kusama who has recently become much more popular.  She’s known for her use of polka dots and for living in a psychiatric hospital most of the time.  Matsumoto is her hometown so there are huge sculptures of her’s outside.  Even the vending machines are covered in her signature polka dots with limited edition polka dot cans of Coke inside.

Inside the museum’s gift shop, I was amused to find a bunch of finger puppets I recognized.

I don’t know where it started, but I had several finger puppets from this company and had only just recently added them to the prize basket at work.

After I had my fill of the museum, I went in search of lunch.  The Hawaiian burger restaurant someone had recommended to me ended up having a huge line to get inside.  Instead, I ended up at a pub.  The food was simple, inexpensive, and good.

I had seen all I could in Matsumoto, met my rule about how long I had to stay, and gotten my customary phone charm.  It was time to go back to Nagoya.

I bid goodbye to the Japanese Alps and hopped on the train.

The Day with Shizuko

The day after my Kamakura adventure, I woke up at my normal time and headed to Starbucks before it was time to meet up with Shizuko.  Shizuko and I met in Jazzercise several years ago in St. Louis.  I can’t remember the exact year, but it was either the semester I took off in 2011 when I was supposed to study abroad in Japan but could not due to the tsunami, or when I was working two internships the summer before my senior year.  Either way, we met in Jazzercise where I spent several classes trying to work up the courage to say hello in Japanese.

She also introduced me to my friend, Aya, who ended up being my language exchange partner whenever I was in town.  Aya and Shizuko have both since moved back to Japan, so now I’ve hung out with them both in two different countries.  I say Shizuko last four years ago when Jen and I had our whirlwind winter travel adventure, but have not had a chance to see her since.  She hasn’t had time to get down to Miyazaki and Nagoya is not close to anywhere I have been, so it was perfect that we were finally able to see each other again.

We met up at Kanayama Station and then headed to a covered shopping area in Nagoya with her daughter in tow.  Our first stop of the day was Kannon Shrine.

It was a little awkward at first, namely trying to find our old rhythm and eventually giving up on English altogether, but even her daughter started to warm up to me again (she did not remember me at all from when she had last seen me when she was 5, unsurprisingly) when we went into the first arcade.  It is not uncommon in a multi-story arcade to have one level entirely dedicated to UFO catchers (claw machines).  We wandered around, trying to find something that we actually wanted to spend money on.

I didn’t win anything, but Shizuko’s daughter did!  She won a Pikachu pillow shaped like a macaroon.  I also challenged her to a Taiko Tatsujin battle and she wiped the floor with me.

We managed to find all kinds of cool things along the shopping street, including a store packed with collectables of all kinds.  They had full sets of the little toys you can get from capsule machines, statues, and even American comics.  I picked up a few cheap copies of a Deadpool story arc I haven’t read yet for the plane ride home.

There was also a new looking shrine we found in the middle of the shopping area.

We also found a strange store called, “Alice on Wednesday.”  It is an Alice in Wonderland themed store that has stores in Osaka, Nagoya, and their biggest one in Tokyo.  The Tokyo one is multiple floors, with each level a different theme like the tea party or the rose gardens.  The Nagoya one is much smaller and was suffocatingly packed.  We had to wait in line for about half an hour just to get inside.  There were some cute things that were not even expensive, but I could not stand more than a few minutes inside fighting people.  I ended up waiting outside after I got my fill, but it was a cute store.  I’m hoping I can check out the Tokyo one when I visit.

By the time we were done with the store, it was time to head to the main event of the day: the rakugo performance.  Rakugo 落語 is written with the kanji for “to fall” or “to drop” and the kanji for words or speech.  It is a type of comedic storytelling that typically finishes with the single punchline which seems to be a pun more often than not.  This was my second time hearing rakugo.  The first time was at Middlebury Japanese Language School the summer after my first year of college, when I officially started learning Japanese.  At the time, it was interesting, but I think that was because there was a PowerPoint displayed behind the rakugoka (the storyteller) with the English translation.  I heard a lot of rakugo stories during that summer, but the one that sticks out goes something like:

Once upon a time there was a man eating ramen at a ramen stand.  While he was eating, another customer was finishing his meal.  “How much do I owe you?” The customer asked the stand owner.

“1000 yen,” the owner replied.

“Ok.  I have a bunch of 100 yen coins.  1, 2, 3… By the way, what time is it?”

“Oh, it’s 8,” said the owner.

“9, 10.  Here’s your money,” The customer said.  The owner took it and nodded as the customer left.

The man eating ramen thought, “Wow, that’s a really good idea.  I’m going to try that next time.”  Several days later, the man visited another ramen stand and when it was time to pay his bill, he decided to try the new tactic.

“1, 2, 3, 4,” The man started to count.  He paused and said, “What time is it?”

“It’s 2,” The owner replied.

Grinning, the man continued counting, “3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. “

And that’s how the story would end.  A beat of silence later and everyone starts chuckling as the joke sinks in.

When we arrived at the rakugo theater, I was excited, thinking I would definitely be able to understand the Japanese now that my skill was so much more advanced than it had been.

I was wrong, so very wrong.  Rakugo (specifically Tokyo-style, according to my Japanese teacher) is spoken very quickly.  It was nearly impossible for me to understand.  I was able to snap some cool pictures of the theater, though.

Thankfully, the rakugo was interspersed with other acts.  A magician performed and I understood all of that.  There was also a man with a giant spinning top, the kind you spin by winding a string around it and yanking it.  He was pretty good, but he had some trouble with his final trick and ended up being told by the staff he had run over his allotted time; it was time to get off the stage.  I even understood a lot of the manzai (a two-person comedy act like, “Who’s on First”).  The last part of the show was a kind of wrap up with a lot of puns.  Four rakugokas sat on the stage with one of them sitting off to the side as the MC.  Audience members then called out prompts based on the theme.  One of the themes was marriage.  The puns were things like, “A TV and a satellite dish got married.  The reception was excellent.”

We wandered around a bit more after that and got some interesting light bulb sodas.  The shop also sold rainbow bagels, but sadly they were all sold out.

At the end of the day we picked up some roasted chestnuts.  I had never had them before, so Shizuko and her daughter had to show me how to eat them… Then we all had a good laugh when I failed miserably at puncturing them with my nail and popping them open like the two of them could.  (I’m going to blame my messed up finger for this one, because I need an excuse.)

Thankfully, I later discovered the chestnuts came with a handy-dandy tool which made my ineptitude a non-issue.

All in all, we managed to spend the whole day just in the shopping district.  The whole day I had flashbacks to when Jen and I visited.  Things I had completely forgotten about popped up, like when we were wandering around and one of the lights suddenly caught on fire.

I am so glad I got a chance to see Shizuko again before I move.  I have no idea when I’ll be able to get back to Nagoya, so I am glad she was able to make time for me.