Japan: Days One, Two, and Three


FLIGHT 5J-828 Cebu Pacific, NAIA to Kansai Int’l
Two phrases you must ALWAYS REMEMBER: “Sumimasen.” and “Ey-go o ga hanasemas ka?”
The first means “Excuse me” and is used to call someone’s attention. �The second means “Do you speak English?” �If the answer is no, broken English mixed with Lonely Planet Phrasebook Japanese and creative hand signaling usually does the trick. �Don’t be afraid to randomly approach people as the Japanese are friendly to the bone.
And do not be afraid to look stupid – it’s half the fun.
Arrived by Airport Limousine Bus at the Shin Hankyu Hotel Terminal, which is walking-distance away from the Osaka (or UMEDA) station. �Got horribly lost on the way to HOTEL KINKI, where we would be staying the next five nights, but found our way thanks to my Tita Gigi’s directions and my Lonely Planet Phrasebook Japanese.
It was great to be lost though. �If we hadn’t wandered aimlessly around the city trying vainly to read the bright neon signs in hiragana and katakana, I would not have seen…
a) a very obvious MAN, v. fat, dressed as a gothic lolita schoolgirl
b) a streetside crooner with the most wonderful voice performing a Japanese tune that seemed the perfect soundtrack to my feelings of euphoria in being a stranger in a strange land
c) a gaggle of girls dressed in the street fashion I would eventually come to get used to
d) the bright lanterns of a corner restaurant that illuminated the bunch of friendly teenagers who would eventually give me the directions to Hotel Kinki. �AFTER I’d used my Lonely Planet Guidebook Japanese on them.
I went to sleep with dreams of “Ohayo” and “Desu ka”, and of receiving a compliment on my perfectly-accented Japanese.
ROUTE: �Train to SHIN-OSAKA STATION, SHINKANSEN (HIKARI RAIL STAR) to TOKYO, with several stops. �Reverse to go back home.
I met a Japanese family at the platform while waiting for the bullet train. �My phrasebook Japanese was utterly useless – it would prove to be many more times, mostly because I was so nervous or I was not getting my expected reaction. �Aki and Kayoko proudly displayed baby Daichi (Aki being proud mum and Kayoko the grandma), and introduced to me their silent husbands – Matsuo (Aki’s) and Tsutomu (Kayoko’s). �The Japanese do love a chat, and were eager to find out my basic bio data and holiday plans.
I was embarassed that I was not able to return the favor in halting Japanese, but they didn’t seem to mind.
On the train, I made short work of my tonkatsu bento, clumsily manoeuvering my chopsticks. My Tita Gigi had better luck – she met a guy from Kobe who advised her on what to see, what to do, and how to survived. �They had a nice time until the guy got off at his stop – I forgot where.
In Tokyo, I had to revise my lengthy itinerary, finally cutting it down to Shinjuku and Harajuku (OF COURSE!). �In Shinjuku, I enjoyed the Takashimaya Times’ Square (a high-end mall), and took photos of the metropolitan life (though nothing remotely Get Backers-esque). �In Harajuku, I went wild.
Lolitas, kogals, schoolgirls – oh my! �Out of my manga pages came flying the cavalcade of awesome street fashion and tempting stores. �I ended up shopping only at one – CHICAGO, a secondhand-clothing thrift store in Omotesando-dori, where I bought an obi, yukata, and haori jacket and pawed through racks of secondhand kimono. �The new articles may be expensive, but secondhand is dirt cheap!
I am having my kusturera measure out an obi and yukata and make some for me. �*evil plotting*
I gaped at a sex shop (didn’t go in, just stared and giggled), gasped at MILK (a G-LOL boutique), and tried to solicit photographs from young and fashionable Tokyo-ites. �One girl replied with a hearty assent, but the rest flashed me the X-fingers sign meaning “Go away freaky girl and don’t take my photo!”
Of course, they were very nice and smiled as they refused. �I’m exaggerating with the negatives.
Harajuku may have been fashionista paradise but it was epic stressful. �Forever 21 had just had its grand opening in Tokyo and the streets were PACKED! �To get away, scooted over to the Meiji-jingu, a shrine and forest right in the middle of Tokyo (well, not the middle, but you get the drift) that seemed to envelop you in green as soon as you got in. �The shrine was to commemorate the Emperor Meiji and his wife, and was a place where people prayed for peace and prosperity for Japan.
Inside the shrine grounds, Tokyo faded away. �All was quiet and tranquil except for water flowing from a small stream and the ‘caw’ of ravens. �I met other, equally as enthralled tourists and exchanged small talk, then I prayed for the Philippines – not to the shrine gods, of course, but to God.
It seemed like a good place to do so.
Then, once again, took the trains back home to Hotel Kinki. �Barely ate, and fell comatose on my futon (we had a Japanese-style tatami room) at around 1AM.
ROUTE: JR Rapid Express line to HIMEJI (not recommended, better you take the Shinkansen instead) and back to KOBE station, the SUBWAY to SHIN-KOBE station, and SHINKANSEN back home.
Got to the train station in record time, but took the long way with the RAPID EXPRESS train instead of the BULLET TRAIN to HIMEJI. �Himeji was supposed to be a side-trip only (KOBE being our supposed main destination), but the HIMEJI CASTLE and KEEP took up so much of our time and energy that we ventured to Kobe only to view the spectacular Nunobiki-no-taki (NUNOBIKI FALLS) behind the Shin-Kobe station.
HIMEJI CASTLE was beautiful, but time-consuming. �We were supposed to view the castle gardens afterwards but wasted the extra 140yen on our ticket by backing out — our energy was sapped! �Why? �Well, for one thing, the castle was built on uneven ground so there were stairs upon stairs with their large flagstones – steep but beautiful. �Another thing was that after facing all those flagstones and the “West Bailey”, matrimonial home to Princess Sen, we had to practically hike up the inside of the main tower of HIMEJI CASTLE…barefoot. �On cedar floors with no give, that meant lots of back and foot pain, but the trip was worth it. �The inside of the castle was beautiful in its austerity, and the views of Himeji from its top totally worth the trek.
Creepy stories also abounded in Himeji Castle. �My personal favorite has to be the story of Okiku’s Well – a brave young palace handmaiden reveals a plot by the chief retainer to usurp the throne from the feudal lord and in revenge, the chief retainer took revenge on the plucky girl by accusing her of stealing one of the ten treasure dishes of the lord (in fact the retainer or one of his men had arranged its loss). �The handmaided was tortured, killed, and her body thrown into a well where her ghost cried out night after night, counting the dishes, looking for the one she had died for. �She was later enshrined as a goddess when the wrongfulness of her death was revealed, and her lover (another retainer of the lord) overthrew the evil chief retainer. �Happy ending, minus the dying part.
On the way back to the station, though, I discovered my favorite part about Himeji – dirt cheap Kimono and Yukata shopping. �Traditional Japanese clothing stores abound, ranging from the pricey first-use (that can set you back several hundred-thousand yen) to the almost illegal cheapness of the second-hands (500 for a Kimono, 300 for an obi, and 500 for a thin summer Haori). �The city of Himeji also boasts a haven for artists and literati – statues abound on the quiet and uncrowded sidewalks, and bookstores peep out every so often. �A literature museum stands testament to this artistic passion.
Oh, and Himeji Station has the cutest clothing stores. �I recommend EPISODE near the station’s exit for HIMEJI CASTLE. �It has the most darling Victorianesque parasols for 2,000+ yen…my mom wouldn’t let me get one, but I snapped a picture.
*le sigh*
Kobe was similarly as peaceful as Himeji, and remarkably close to nature. �Behind the super high-tech veneer of the Shin-Kobe station lurked the gorgeous NUNOBIKI FALLS, and under the station was a shallow river where people could hunt for crabs (I caught one of the locals doing so). �A short hike up the mountain behind the station revealed the triple-layer falls, situated in the midst of a mountainside residential area. �I shared a duet of “You Are My Sunshine” with one of the residents, a nice old man with a wonderful voice, and rested my aching feet with Mom and Tita Gigi as I looked at the falls.
Totally worth the train ride.
Afterwards, we were too tired out to look for any more. �Took the trains back to Osaka and made our way back to our hotel. �Tita Gigi begged the receptionist, Tanaka-san, to point her to the nearest massage place (ma-sa-ji in Japanese) as Mom and I got a headstart on our Yoshinoya beef bowls. �The fast-paced style of Japanese sightseeing has required our reliance on bento and fast food.
Mom and Tita Gigi are still getting that massage, and I am watching a Japanese TV show I definitely cannot understand but am drawn to. �Like everything in Japan, I may not be able to comprehend, but it attracts me nonetheless. �Every bookstore I pass (and there are lots – several in every train station and one or two in every street corner – the Japanese seem to read a lot, and the paperbacks are TINY) calls me to it thought they only carry Japanese books I cannot read. �Every song I hear makes me want to sing along though I do not know what I am saying. �Every piece of wild clothing says my name though I could probably not carry it through the tamer streets of Makati…
I love Japan! �Its dichotomy, its anachronisms, its vibrancy, its paradoxes. �There is no taboo, no inhibition, and yet there are social conventions to follow and a Noh smile to practice. �It is a world of the tea ceremony and the maid cafe. �Tradition and modernization (oh look, Steff’s thesis!) blend into one wild cavalcade.
And it reminds me so much of how I am – old soul and avant garde, childish brat and pensive adolescent – that I cannot help but feel drawn in. �Old and new, ceremony and cultural clash…Japan almost feels like home to me.
Except when I see a maya bird (there still are maya birds here) on the street, a lone one in a sea of PIGEONS, I feel a sense of longing for home – for my “kingdom” of Makati where I reign from Greenbelt to Paseo de Roxas with an egotist’s eye and a veteran’s sense of direction.
Japan may have my attention, but I guess the Philippines still has my heart. �Wow, so sentimental.
Anyway, there are still five more days to get through. �I miss home a lot, but I can’t help but wonder what the next days will bring.
Ja ne!
Kimono and yukata will be worn in public. �Japanese street style is all about creative layering and wild statements – I think I can make one with a splash.
Even in Japan, irony doesn’t leave me alone. �Sorry to bring this up again but everywhere I turn, there are advertisements for this new Japan Broadway translation – Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. �There was even a commercial today and when I recognized one of the dance steps as one I’d actually DONE (though we didn’t do a Broadway small-scale adaptation at all, just two scenes), I started to laugh and got stared at!
So immature. �So ju-roku to the bone.
I might be producing a small-scale “travelogue/travel-guide” on Tokyo, Kyoto-Nara, Osaka, and Himeji on the net. �Look out for it. �I MIGHT. �Consider this a preview.


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