Sunday, June 28, 2009

Day 12 - Miyajima and New Foods

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Saturday, June 27th, 2009. 7:28pm Japan Time.

This morning, it was so difficult to wake up. The futon, so cushy, so seductive, keeping me in bed until I knew if I waited any longer I would miss breakfast. It's a fasting day, but my days in Japan are growing fewer and fewer, so I want to experience more and more.

Today, we got up and had an excellent English breakfast on the first floor of our inn. Yum! The only thing I didn't partake of was the coffee, though I had my first taste ever. It's disgusting. :} I find it baffling that two of the biggest industries for drinks (so big that they are international), are for things that taste horrible (beer and coffee, though soda is understandable despite having obvious nutrient issues). Ah well! I guess it's just not for me. :}

So, we set out to explore Miyajima, which is awake very early in the morning. First, we returned to all of the closed shops and explored. Unfortunately for me, Miyajima is full of delicious foods. I had a taste of various things, but did my best not to partake too much (I don't want to make myself sick! . . . or fat :p ). Terinati really wanted some maple leaf shaped baked goods with filling (I think they're called momiji, but I could be wrong because I keep forgetting :} ). He tried some with red bean inside and with chocolate filling, and we ended up buying a box with chocolate filling. I'm sure they will be tastier than the sesame ice cream I tried yesterday (it's not horrible like it sounds, though!). Then, we found a most popular item, deep fried momiji! People lined up, had to take numbers! Terinati only purchased one, and I took one bite and regretted very much that it was fasting day. If it wasn't, I would have eaten five of them. :} In the end, I'm glad I tried it, though!

After touring around and buying a few souvenirs, including a miniature Otorii, we headed up to the cable car. The ride up was pretty cool, and despite the warnings of monkeys, we saw none, which is okay. :) But then we say the “hike” up to the topmost point, which has a lot of rewarding goods and such, but realized right away that this was an even worse hike than the last one we attempted. Neither of us even saw a path, so we decided to save our very sore feet (today, Terinati had started to really hurt, so it's a true testament to how much traveling by foot we've been doing; he's got the buffest legs I've ever seen!) and head back down. We saw the 5-story pagoda and the adjacent shrines.

Miyajima is so beautiful, so peaceful, and so wonderful. But, without the hike . . . we'd been just about everywhere there is to go! :} So, we hopped on the train and headed back to Hiroshima after checking our schedule for tomorrow and seeing what we would need to leave and such.

Back in Hiroshima, Terinati had a mission to find the okonomiyaki at Okonomiyaki Mura. We went back to the shopping areas, and I was happy to spot it for Terinati. We headed up the stairs to the third floor and sat down in a nearly empty restaurant at a table with a cooking surface; we were going to get one of those treats where the chefs cook right in front of us. Terinati only ordered one okonomiyaki, but because we were both there, they assumed we were going to split it and served it in half to both of us. =^><^= D'oh! But, I'm glad in the end, because despite its appearance, it is SOOOOO good! You must have okonomiyaki, and don't get it cold, in wrap, or anywhere where it is not cooked fresh and handed to you FRESH. There are many different kinds, so if you're not sure, like we were, just ask for the most basic kind. OMG, why aren't these in the US? Where is the Okonomiyaki and cinnamon/red bean ice cream?!

After that, we wandered around a bit more and discovered the Japanese version of Cold Stone: Marvelous Cream. To my sorrow, the banana tiramisu that they advertised on the English menu was no longer available, but I had to try something anyway, so I had a delicious strawberry-banana thing in a waffle cup. Now, feeling somewhat fat, I still admit that it was quite satisfying. :}

For a change of pace, and to make our 2-day Miyajima passes count, we decided to take the cable car back to Miyajima guchi instead of the JR Train. We figured it'd be less crowded, but we figured wrong. Once we were on it, and at each stop the cars only got more and more crammed full, it occurred to me that this result should have been obvious since the cable car would cost less to ride than the train, so the people who are trying to save money would all be on it. Furthermore, the car we had to take was the only one that went to several places, so most people wouldn't want to wait for another one. Still, it was a good experience, if a bit tiring from all of the standing. :)

By the time we got back, it was after 6pm, and everything in Japan seems to close up between 3pm and 6pm. Only a few places are open later, unless you're in Tokyo where there seems to be a little more of a night life. Actually, there are a lot of night owls in Kyoto, but many stores still close earlier in the day. Now, as I sit at our low table, Terinati has the broadway version of Lion King showing on TV . . . only it's in Japanese. :} It's kind of cool, though, because obviously we know the story already. Tomorrow, we are promised to have internet again, so hopefully I will finally be able to upload all of the photos and blogs! Not that anyone will probably want to read all of this in one go. :} But, maybe it will help someone else going to Japan. =^--^=

I wish we didn't have to leave, though I do miss Stardust and Tatsu terribly. Well, talk tomorrow!

Day 11 - Hiroshima and Miyajima

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Friday, June 26th, 2009. 9:43pm Japan Time.

Today, we packed our things and said good-bye to Kyoto. I had to keep reminding myself of how different it would be if I could understand what everyone is saying all of the time, and if I had a job and was coming home to school work like I soon will be. Even doing so, I couldn't help enjoying the fresh air as I showered with the window slightly open and thinking that I feel more like myself here than I do in America. Still, I would miss my friends if I stayed in Japan. I hope they're missing me, too!

We took the Japan Rail to Hiroshima today, and I feel lucky that we once again had brilliant sunshine to greet us there. Since it is their rainy reason, it seems that we have been really fortunate with outrunning the rain. :) At first, I was really excited to get to Hiroshima and see the history there, but as I saw our first memorial, the only standing remains of a building from the first a-bomb dropped in history, it quickly became very solemn. Even after talking to Terinati about it and understanding why it happened, and seeing how the local people here were clearly beyond hating America, if they ever did, I still felt the sorrow from that building, pain never to be forgotten. I'm glad that they decided to preserve it, because otherwise there would be nothing left to demonstrate the true horror of the a-bomb. Everything has been rebuilt, the park with all of its peace memorials is beautiful, so it would be easy to take it lightly without seeing it for yourself. Not even the mound where they buried the ashes of those who were killed that day bring it home as well as that structure did.

I tried hard not to cry, but then we saw a memorial for a girl who had leukemia from the radiation of the a-bomb, I lost it. She had been trying to create 1000 origami cranes before she died, because it is said that if you do so, you can have a wish granted. I think she only made it to 644 before she died, and then her loyal classmates took up the job of finishing the rest on her behalf. :( That sort of stuff always makes me cry. It's a reminder of how good the human spirit can be, even in the face of disaster. It only got harder from there, and I was glad to be wearing sunglasses.

But, Hiroshima isn't all about that, either. After visiting there and seeing the castle, we went through the many streets to shop. We were excited to find a gamers store that had many familiar favorites (the Zombies games, card games, D&D, Shadowrun, etc.), but not L5R. I was sad about that. :} After walking them for hours trying to find a place called Moss Burgers mentioned by Inside Japan Tours (they supposedly make Japanese-style burgers, and we were looking for the experience, but IJT said they were scattered around and we'd see one...), but we didn't see a single one, so we settled for a place called Straight Burgers. I have no idea what that means, but other than weird soda flavors and a different kind of taste to the meat, my meal tasted pretty typical of those kinds of things. Terinati's burger, however, had some weird sauce and a cooked egg in it. Like, the whole egg, not mashed up or anything. It was interesting at least.

Also, while having to use the restroom out in Hiroshima, I couldn't help but think that ever since that bathroom in Tokyo where there was no soap and no drier, most public bathrooms have been the same. And then it hit me! The Japanese don't wash their hands after going to the bathroom like we do! It's just like they don't say anything after someone sneezes! So, they probably have sinks for convenience, but not out of necessity like in America. What does it mean that a country so concerned with preventing illness that there hasn't been a single city I've been to yet without people wearing doctor's masks, doesn't wash its hands after using the restroom, something Americans think is a necessity to preventing the spread of disease? This begs the question . . . have any studies been done proving that it actually helps? I want to look into it more now, but it will have to wait until I have internet again . . . and free time.

So! After that, we headed back to the train station to take the train to Miyajima-guchi, where we took a ferry to our current location, Miyajima! The ferry ride was so beautiful! The water was sparkling as the sun was setting, and I took many pictures to try and capture the moment. Just into the island and off of the ferry was our stop, the Yamaichi Inn! Our hostess, who is also a lover of cats, speaks pretty good English and is very sweet and friendly. She prepared dinner for us, our only guests for tonight, and then we went out walking by the beach. We were very much not alone, as there were school children out, even at 8:30pm, led by whoever leads them (I would guess it's their teachers) to look at the torii gate in the water and such. There were also tour groups still running that late, even though almost all of the stores had closed by then! Nevertheless, it was a magical stroll, if only a little startling the first time we ran into a deer looking at us through the darkness. :}

Going back to the inn, it's quite amazing. This is the biggest space we've had yet, up on the third floor with two entrances, both a restroom and a restroom with a shower, a separate room for relaxing and drinking tea or watching TV, and then a separate bedroom. The space makes it feel luxurious, especially with all of the beautiful decorations and historical figures about. The inn looks equipped to handle very important business meetings, and it's literally right at the ferry, so it's great!

The only thing it needs? Internet. I'm really surprised how little internet availability there is if you want to utilize your own computer/laptop. But, there are only a few days left here (SADNESS!) before we head back to Tokyo and then home, so we'll see how it goes. For now, I'm exhausted and need some rest. Talk later!

Day 10 - Nara and a Movie!

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Thursday, June 25th, 2009. 10:00pm Japan Time.

Today was another full day! It started out rough, as my feet have blisters on each toe (ow) and on the ankle of my left foot (ow ow), so walking seemed like a dismal venture to me. Nevertheless, I was not going to give up on making the most of our time here! :D

Before we headed out, we asked the hostess what was up with all of the water bottles, and she explained to us that it is in case of fire. Since most structures in Japan are made of wood and are built close together . . . well, you get the idea. I'm not sure why that one person had them all around their car . . . Scary implications there. ;) Today, after she explained it, we noticed that there are fire buckets (they are red and say something about fire in kanji on them) full of water too, so it does seem to be a matter of fire prevention. (Later on, she corrected herself and said that the bottles are to keep cats from peeing on things, a remedy I've heard of before... where are all of these cats? The buckets are for fires).

So, we took the Japan Rail out to Nara, a place rich with culture. Since we couldn't afford to take the bus or a taxi everywhere there is to go, we walked ( painful, but totally worth it!) to the deer park first. OMG . . . These “sacred” deer leave a little to be desired in the manners department. :} Graceful is not the word I would use; perhaps flexible, though! Their poop was everywhere, and we had a deer pee right in front of us. :} It was not a magical Bambi moment, but later on throughout the day there were some resting deer who were very nice, not like the one who assaulted an old woman for her bag of groceries as she walked by. The old woman did manage to snatch it back, though! We also saw an older man trying to sit and enjoy a peaceful meal in the park while three deer kept harassing him. The deer were much more aggressive than the monkeys we saw yesterday!

After that, we circled around to see Todai-ji Temple, the largest wooden structure in the world. It was AWESOME! I didn't think I'd be impressed by giant hunks of wood, but I was! After seeing many “No Smoking” signs around this magical place, I couldn't help but crack a joke about the size of their water bottles.

As we walked up to the temple, two school girls asked if they could guide us as part of their lessons to learn English. One of them seemed to know more English than the other, but it was fun having them guide us around. :) They were very sweet, and I was tempted to ask to be pen pals, but . . . since English was their assignment, I was pretty sure it'd be more fun for me than it would be for them. :/ Anyway, inside of the temple were equally amazingly large statues, and the information the girls provided to us about them were invaluable. I think one of my favorite parts was a hole at the base of a pillar, of which it is said that if you can fit through, then you will definitely go to Heaven. As the girls were explaining this to us, a mother was stuffing her young girl through the hole. :} It was pretty funny and cute, and yet I couldn't help thinking to myself that it was sad that no adults would fit through it. However, the significance of this did not pass me by.

Before we could leave, there was one more amazing thing. They were looking for donations to purchase tiles for doing further reconstruction . . . so, for $10.00 a large tile, you would get to write your name, where you are from, a wish, and donate that tile! I couldn't pass it up! If I had more time (by the time I have internet again, I know that I won't), I'd post a picture here, but you can see it on my Flickr account at . We purchased a tile together, on which I wrote our names, the date, my wish for us, and my little Doodle Kitty!! I'm so thrilled that my Doodle Kitty will be a part of Japan long after I've left!! :D :D :D Sugoi!! I wish I could see it in the final project, but it will have to do as a photo for now.

Among other souvenirs available in Nara, we noticed that chocolates shaped like the sacred deer poop was popular. So, all that stuff on ? It's for real! I remember feeling a little skeptical when I saw a picture on there before, but so far it really is like this in Japan. :} We bought some for Terinati's father for Father's Day (belated, obviously, since we were in Japan through it!).

After that, we were both tired and sore, so we managed to catch a bus back to the Japan Rail station in Nara, and headed back to Kyoto. On the trip back, we met a nice old man who is studying English (his English is already extremely good!) and he has been saving up to come to America to visit! So, we talked with him a while and he practiced a few phrases on us before his stop. His dream to see America was so vivid and sincere that even after he was gone I felt really touched. I hope his dream comes true!

On our way out of the Japan Rail station in Kyoto, we noticed a strange vending machine, one of a few, that serves entire meals. Not healthy meals, mind you, but french fries, or hot dogs; the kind of stuff you'd find in a TV dinner section. Even though it's a fasting day, we just HAD to know, so we purchased hot dogs for 350 yen. Two hot dogs for about $4! Complete with condiments and all! We had to stand and wait while the machine cooked them, and then out came a box inside which were the hot dogs, already fully dressed. They were probably the least tasty hot dogs I've ever had without actually being bad, and the food made McDonald's look good, but it is faster and cheaper, so I bet people in a hurry who are starving still use it.

After stopping back at the hotel and refreshing supplies, we managed to find out where a movie theater was. I'd been wanting to go to one yesterday, missing having that sort of activity, and curious about how the theaters are here. We asked the guys at the front counter, and they pointed out two theaters we could go to, both not close. So, we hopped on the rail again to Nijo, where we got off and went to the Toho theater, which is right off of the stop.

To my delight, some of the movies were in English with Japanese subtitles. I do want to learn more Japanese, but I wanted this to be relaxing and easy to understand for a break. The theater was incredibly clean; we started off by purchasing tickets for Terminator 4, since it was one of the few showing soon after we arrived. It was a little different than my experiences in America, because even though it is a smaller theater, they had assigned seating and Terinati had to choose where to put us. So, we took seats about in the middle of the theater.

Next, concessions! No candy to be found on display at all. You can purchase crepe sticks, but not candy. Also, regular popcorn, caramel popcorn, or a mix. Oo! We just got regular popcorn, since it's a fasting day and I already was feeling fat.

The seats were luxuriously spaced out so that no one's head could possibly get in your way, and you can recline and relax, too. The food comes on trays which you can set in your holder, having the ability to swivel back and forth between two people or just sit at a comfortable distance so that it is not in your lap. Awfully convenient for a place that doesn't serve much food! :)

Instead of the fun movie facts that we get in America, the pre-movie just had information about how to get discounts, such as seeing movies after 8pm would save you 600 yen each, and on Wednesday nights it's like a girls' night out, so girls only cost 1000 yen instead of the 1800 yen we paid. That's quite a difference! But, that just played over and over again. Then, when the previews started, it was strange because we saw some previews twice; one in English with subtitles, and then again in Japanese. Also, Sarah Brightman is in some Japanese movie that I couldn't tell what the title was?! Sarah Brightman, why were you holding out on me?! AWESOME! The strangest part of all was the drawn-out video-game-like instructions on what not to do in the theater. Since we couldn't understand what was being said, it appeared to be no cell phones, no talking, no recording movies illegally, and no shooting lasers. Oh, and no kicking the seats in front of you. It seems sad that these things need to be said, but considering how people are in America, I'm glad that someone finally said all of it . . . even if it was a little drawn out and strange. :} There were multiple messages about it!

Finally, the movie was awesome, didn't even notice the subtitles. Got so drawn in, in fact, that for a while I thought I was back in America and almost cried. Yep, I like Japan that much. Although, I do remind myself from time to time that Japan would not be so relaxing if I lived and worked here like everyone else. One interesting difference; the lights don't come on until every last credit is finished with. Not a moment sooner. A few people still left during the credits, but almost all of us stayed through the whole thing. YAY! I didn't have to feel awkward for staying and watching for a change!

So, that was our day today, and tomorrow we move on to a new place. Hopefully, it will have internet! We'll see, though. I can't believe our journey is getting near to coming to a close! Every day gets more and more interesting. I hope tomorrow will have great things in store as well.

Oyasumi nasai!

Day 9 - Arashiyama is AWESOME!

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Wednesday, June 24th, 2009. 9:21pm Japan Time.

Today was the best day ever!

First, it was the first day during the trip that I actually slept in past 7am. The sky was still pretty dark when I awoke, and I probably wouldn't have gotten up but the alarm clock that is in our room went off at 8am, startling me. :} No time for a shower before going to breakfast, I went out in my yukata with Terinati thinking that it shouldn't be too bad . . . only to find that we were eating amongst a bunch of other English-speaking foreigners and it felt incredibly awkward because none of them were wearing their yukata. :} I was also feeling queasy for some reason, but otherwise breakfast was tasty. I was surprised by how much more comfortable I felt around the local people compared to people I understood. I'm not really sure why that is; perhaps I am afraid they will judge our love of Japan and our attempts to really sink in to its culture.

The shower here is in the best condition of all of the showers we had so far. If only it was as big as the one at Toyoko, but a nice warm shower is great. All of the showers have been warm, but this one was REALLY warm. :} As usual, shower products were provided. I had to use my own conditioner, though, because the shampoo and conditioner were combined.

So, with that late start, we caught the Japan Rail to Arashiyama! I picked there mainly because there is a Monkey Park and I've been missing Stardust and Tatsu so much that any animal would do at this point. It turned out to be a greater find than I could have imagined. This part of Kyoto had more of the old-fashioned feel that I had associated with it before we arrived. The streets were quieter, with many adorable, tiny shops and stores along the way. One of my favorites just to look at had a small dog out front that was very friendly with customers.

As we walked along, we found an ice cream shop. Since Kyoto has been so hot, I had a real hankering for it, so we stopped and I decided to try cinnamon and red bean flavor. YUM!! What a brilliant thing to do! Why does this flavor not exist in the United States?! The only way it could be better is if it had cookie dough in it. :}

By then, we were near the Togetsukyo river, on the way to see the Monkey Park, when we ran into a nice man named Masanori. He asked us where we were from, and as it turned out, he'd spent a month in California himself, and his English was pretty good! He explained to us that he was one of many who pulled rickshaws and asked if we would be willing to pay 3000 yen for a ride (approximately $30 or so). The ride would end near the Monkey Park, so it seemed like a great idea! We said yes and he had a few pictures of us on the rickshaw taken along the way. :) It was so romantic and fun! To my surprise, sitting in the rickshaw was very cool and relaxing, and since Masanori knew a little English, he was able to point out famous places, including a famous tofu restaurant, a road that had been used in a Japanese movie, and the bridge we crossed to get to the Monkey Park. I think the best part of it is that I could tell he wouldn't be put off if we didn't want a ride, but he was just happy to be doing what he was doing and genually seemed to care about the history of Japan surrounding us, which I found endearing and special. =^--^= I hope you get to give many more rides, Masanori-san!

After that romantic adventure, we paid to enter the Monkey Park. There was a hot hike up to the resting area (clever clever, having tons of cold drinks and shade up there... :} ). What was startling and different than American zoos is that you walk amongst the monkeys. We weren't quite up to the resting area when we started seeing them, only ten feet away from us in the trees! In the resting house, you can feed the monkeys (100 yen for each bag of food, including chestnuts, apples, and peanuts) through the gated windows. At first, we were worried about feeding the “poor, little baby monkeys” . . . and then we saw them out-ninja the larger monkeys and realized that they could definitely take care of themselves. We were lucky enough to be there for monkey feeding time, when a man working there took out a large bucket of food and, while some crazy music was playing, tossed out food to all of the monkeys which had gathered around and were eagerly picking it off the ground. It was pretty fun to watch, and there was quite a view of the city behind them.

After sitting a while and enjoying their cuteness with some other foreigners, marveling at the fact that we were close enough to touch them (but not stupid enough to), we headed down to explore the area more.

At this point, I realized that I'm probably feeling queasy because I haven't had sufficient fiber intake since we arrived and was mourning the fact that the only strawberries and apples I've seen have been in candies or crepes, but not for regular eating. In fact, we purchased apple vinegar Kit-Kats . . . I still prefer the original, chocolate variation. :} Anyway, we finally found stores that sold both today, but strawberries are still hard to come by (the ones we found were the last ones left in the grocery store we were at, and it was questionable how good they were, but they still would cost nearly $6 for a small pack). There are at least more options in Kyoto than I've found elsewhere, so I was happy.

We've also been trying to find Pepsi White at the request of my friend, Kyriel, but so far we've only found Pepsi Shiso, which is flavored like the shiso leaf (it's in the mint family, I think, and at least has many mint-like qualities). I didn't drink any because I can't handle certain levels of caffeine, but Terinati tells me it's pretty disgusting. :} I bet it's popular out here in the same way that the “harbal” tea (gotta love Engrish!) we found at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo is popular for its similarity to green tea.

Anyway, we headed back toward the inn, aiming to go to Gion in Kyoto for a Geisha walk at 4:30pm lead by Peter Macintosh. On the way, we were hungry for dinner, but I really needed something NOT Japanese. Japanese food is great, but every day having fish, rice, and miso, is enough to make a person go mad and probably was contributing to my sick stomach. So, as we walked up Kawabata dori, somewhere near where it crosses Gojo dori, I spotted the colors of the Italian flag and saw a cafe that simply advertised itself as “Coffee and Pizza.” Terinati questioned if I really wanted to go there, but in my experience it's always been the smaller, unknown restaurants that have something special to show you, much like the Green Age Inn, so I determined that yes, we were going.

It was on the first floor of three floors, and as we entered we found a very small and welcoming cafe. We sat down and were handed an English menu. There were many sandwiches, drinks, and spaghetti available, all with a little Japanese twist to keep them interesting, but I was craving the pizza, which included cheese, onion, green pepper, mushroom, and shrimp. I wasn't sure how shrimp would be on a pizza, but I'll try just about anything once, so we ordered it. Terinati got a delicious iced cocoa (SO tasty; I almost wish I had ordered it), and I ordered hot tea with milk, resolving the hankering for tea I've been having since we left the Green Age Inn; I'm going to have to get tea cups at home now and stock up the appropriate supplies, because I am officially hooked.

A few people entered while our host was preparing our meal, and it seemed like a friendly place, playing familiar Oldies tunes and having a very warm, happy feel to it. The pizza, which had a slightly buttery taste to it, was fantastic, shrimp and all. Bow down, Pizza Hut, Dominoes, and even Mama Lucia's, because this little shop would make you all hang your head in shame. He may offer only one pizza, but if you get a chance to stop by this shop, DO IT! It was so delicious, so tasty . . . If I were here longer, I'd go there again and again. I told him what I thought of it, “Sugoi desu!” And, for that fantastic pizza, we paid less than we have in the past two years for pizza in the states. I enjoyed it so much that we took a picture of the cafe, which is available in the honeymoon pictures on ( ).

After that, we headed down to meet Peter at Minamiza Theater, but he was not there. We waited fifteen minutes, but he must have had other commitments this evening. Darn! So, what to do with the afternoon? Wander around Gion! So, that'd what we did! We did see a few geisha earlier in the day, so it wasn't a total loss, and some of the kimonos being worn in Gion were just so beautiful! I wished to myself that I could be pretty in a kimono too, but I'm sure it would only look strange on me, a foreigner. Still, after seeing so much of Kyoto today, I was starting to feel relaxed and at home here.

Kyoto reminds me a lot of myself. It has many different faces, and depending on what you're in the mood for, you can find something to fit it perfectly, I think. Want a romantic castle? Done! Want to shop in the ritzy style? No problem! Want to go to a crazy arcade/club with blaring music? No problem! All of the different sides of me seem to find easy expression here, and I love how all of these things can be expressed at once without contradiction to the city's personality. Someone wearing a traditional, old-style kimono, looks perfectly natural next to the business woman on her cell phone on the bench. Bikes with pretty warning bells ride along silently and beautiful right next to creepy white trucks that occasionally come down the street, blaring something that we don't understand but makes us think incredibly of Cyberpunk or Big Brother. It's just an amazing place, and I really love it here. It is also impressive that there are so many people who speak English here, though I still really feel ashamed to not know more Japanese.

While wandering around, we found some gifts for friends and family (it's hard because we still don't have much money, and we can't carry anything really fragile back with us, so choices become limited), and then went to a bar where I had my very first long island iced tea. It was pretty good, and we also had this eggplant/onion dish that was mixed with vinegar, and fried cheese! Yum! The bar is Sugar Hill, and the food is DELICIOUS! As we sat there, we thought of Terinati's parents; it seemed like a place they'd definitely feel comfortable in.

After that, we wandered down the street and I talked about simple things I missed, like movie theaters (I haven't seen a movie theater like ours since we arrived), and CD shops, because I like to get music or a book on trips. Since I am not able to read fluently yet, only a few words here and there (though my ability to read has been useful on this trip!), getting a book isn't of interest to me, especially since I already have books I'm dying to learn to read at home. But, by luck, we found a CD shop on the way back to the hotel and stopped inside. Even more lucky, they had those little stands where you can listen to CDs.

Comparing Japanese music and English music side-by-side right there was embarrassing. Why is so much of our music these days complaining? Whining? All these lyrics about being dumped, being betrayed, and how we're going to do something bad-assed about it. :p Ugh, America. Grow up! Give me more passion, or more art, okay? Even without getting all of the lyrics of Japanese songs, they feel so happy, so genuine to listen to much of it, that I couldn't resist dancing in the store. I've discovered that I am now a “Greeeen” fan, and I purchased their latest CD after getting to listen to it. If I had a CD player attached to this laptop, I'd totally be listening to it right now, but alas, that is not the case and I will have to wait until we return to the states to enjoy my purchase again. Much better than listening to how some skank or homeboy in America is going to do something stupid in order to deal with whatever personal issues they are having. :} Okay, obviously not all of our music is like that, and I can't stereotype Japanese music either, but it really does seem like the most popular music in America is the most depressing lyrically. I just don't get it. It goes along the same train of thought I have about how much filthier our streets are than here (and yet most people in America seem to think other countries are all bound to be more filthy than there, not knowing how disgusting we really are), and how most people seem to not care about being polite. They remind me of the monkeys at the park today who would snatch the food out of your hands, even when no other monkeys were around, just because they were paranoid or something. The Japanese culture is more like the patient monkey who gently takes the food from your hand. It's so humiliating; I feel really ashamed of what they must think of us when they come to our country. :(

Anyway, it was fun, random walk home. The only question we have left is . . . what is with all of the water bottles left outside of people's houses, surrounding their cars and such?! Actually, it bothers Terinati more than it does me, but I'm curious too . . . What does it mean? :} Ah well. I've written a lot, and we must rest; tomorrow is another journey.

And, when oh when will I have internet again?! :} Ah well. Oyasumi nasai!

Day 8 - To Kyoto!

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009. 4:15pm Japan Time.

This morning Terinati and I woke up realizing we hadn't slept as well as the night before. I fared better than him, as I struggled to wake him up, but apparently we had been really spoiled by the pre-sleep massage on the previous night, which made it feel like we were melting into cream puffs. Yum . . . Maybe it was just easier for me to get up because I had dreamt about roaches all night and was eager to get out of there. :}

We had breakfast, even though it was a fasting day, and my opinion of their food has entirely changed. Other than the first meal, everything was very tasty, so it was an isolated incident. Still, anyone who is afraid of trying new things, especially cooking something alive right in front of you or looking at food with eyeballs still intact, I don't recommend going to Ichinoyu Honkan.

In the end, if it weren't for the roaches, I'd totally go back there. But, even using the restroom was scary because I looked up and realized that the ceiling had been repaired more than once for holes . . . but only with rice paper. :| Look, people . . . roaches are serious business. Therefore, never again! * sigh * Sorry, guys, but your Kotobuki was one of your best rooms . . . and it's infested. Ick.

So, I was glad to leave, hoping and praying that I have no hitch-hikers with our luggage, and we took the JR to Kyoto! It was a long trip, and Terinati isn't feeling well. I was surprised when we arrived here, because Kyoto is pretty much what I expected Tokyo to be! It feels like a much larger city, with the station leading directly into a HUGE, trendy mall that sells things like Gucci and other expensive, foreign stuffs. The fresh market looked pretty exciting, but it's also on the expensive end of things. I thought it was fun to look through the shop, but window shopping on vacation isn't very satisfying in the end. :}

After that, we found our inn, the Ryokan Shimizu. While we were too early to check in, our hostess was more than happy to take our luggage. We went and explored the mall more thoroughly, visited Kyoto Tower (I was skeptical, because Kyoto isn't as pretty or old-fashioned as I'd imagined in my head, but it's cool to see everything from up there!), and then we wandered around a bit to go to places we saw at the tower. Unfortunately, the garden we wanted to walk through charged a fee for entry, so we skipped it and just came back and sat outside the inn until it was time to check in. :}

Something I've noticed is that either there is some cultural void or a nasty marketing scheme, but there are no benches ANYWHERE in Japan. I mean, except for like, gardens. It's no wonder the majority of the people in Japan are in good shape. They ride bikes, walk, and have nowhere to sit. The reason I suspect a marketing scheme is because Japan seems too accommodating to not provide seating every so often. Yet, in every city we've visited so far, there is no where to sit except for at bus stops or gardens. In fact, if it wasn't for that, we would not have gone into a restaurant in Tokyo before, but I was so tired that I was desperate enough to sit that I was willing to pay for food I didn't want just to be able to rest. HMM... :} We've managed to resist since then, but it is tiring when all you're doing is walking and traveling all the time.

Consequently, we're not doing anything interesting tonight. It's a fasting night, and we've been traveling for well over a week now and need a break!

I am so much more impressed with this ryokan than the last. I see an incredible difference on how well-maintained this building is in comparison to the last one. There are definitely no roaches here. No peeling paint, no poorly-patched holes, etc. It's ironic, because I don't mind a building being a little run-down. That was part of the charm of The Green Age Inn, which I miss. Mostly, I miss her delicious tea and sweet disposition. * sniffle * But, by this far into the trip, I'm just happy to have a stable place to rest!

Also, our hostess speaks English so fluently that there is no Engrish, and not really any accent either. She made sure we knew how to turn on the air conditioning and showed us where the English instructions are (THANK GOODNESS! No one had done this thus far, so we'd just been hitting random buttons; the Toyoko Asakusa Inn remote was pretty self-explanatory, though)! And, not only that, but once we were settled in, she sent a nice man with iced tea for us to drink! How thoughtful! Everywhere else only provided hot tea. Granted, everywhere else has been cool. Kyoto is humid and hot today, which is what I'd original been expecting in all of the other cities. This is the first time I completely left my jacket packed since we arrived in Japan! I hope the next few days are a little cooler, though, since we'll be heading out again.

One thing that I like about Japanese inns which are lacking in America . . . Specific requests of curfew for coming back to the inn (you have to, because you leave your key at the front desk when you leave and the inns aren't staffed 24 hours like ours are in America), and requests for people to be quiet after a specific time or you will be removed. Some American inns say that they will do this, but when it is noisy, which it almost always is (I have sensitive hearing, even when asleep, so that's something I was worried about in Japan before I came here . . . I assumed sleeping in inns here would be as bad as back home; glad to be wrong!), if you tell the person at the front desk they usually just ask the person to be more quiet and don't do anything else. Of course, that doesn't stop noisy people. And, it seems that most people who work in American hotels have the mind set of, “Well, they paid for their room, so they can do whatever they want in it.” But, I really think the Japanese have the right idea; after all, what happened to that constitutional right that not only says we should pursue happiness but that our pursuit should not disrupt the happiness of others? People in America always seem to forget that inconvenient, second part. :p Ugh. Sometimes . . . being an American makes me ashamed. :p Why are so many Americans such jerks?

Anyway, I'm going to sit now and enjoy my iced tea quietly in our nice room and see if I can't watch TV. Talk later! 4:41pm Japan Time.

Day 7 - Yunessun

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Monday, June 22, 2009. 7:32am Japan Time.

This morning I woke up probably around 2am because the air conditioner was turned off and it was getting hot and moist from the onsen, even though it was outdoors and there is a room between where we sleep and it. :} By sheer luck, I got up and in almost complete darkness (I used the light from an adjacent room in order to allow Terinati to continue sleeping) managed to turn it on. After that, I fell asleep readily again and woke up deliriously comfortable on our futons, which are cushy and squishy beyond anything I've ever imagined sleeping on. I was prepared to sleep on something as hard as the tatami itself! Showed me!

No sign of Mr. Roach or his friends when I went to shower, and breakfast was a bit better than dinner had been. There was no sushi with eyes (I like sushi, but I can't eat anything that is still looking at me), and there was a delicious soup with squash in it. YUM! Still, I needed a break from Japanese food at this point. I'm sick of miso soup and just can't have any more of it for the time being. It comes with nearly everything, so I needed something different for my pallet. I would be upset by this, but it's not that I don't like eating Japanese food; it's just like if I were at home because if I were, I'd be eating different kinds of foods every day. It was time for something new! Especially because not all of breakfast was that tasty either.

Today was a day I've been planning for since I learned we were coming to Hakone! We rode the bus out to Yunessun!! It is a water resort, mostly for several different types of onsen. We were there nearly five hours having a pretty good time! One of the things I found interesting about Yunessun before we even arrived there is that you can rent swimsuits. =^o0^= Most Americans would react the way I did initially: “What? Eww!” But, I have some food for thought on the topic.

First of all, many people are grossed out by the idea of stepping into a boiling bath, an onsen, that usually comes from a hot spring or some other source that probably kills of any living bacteria by its sheer heat alone, not to mention any other natural minerals or salts that may be included depending on the location. This reaction initially made sense to me because these onsen are, according to my reading, never emptied (unless there is a lot of debris that needs to be cleaned out, I'm guessing, from leaves or something; each one I've seen thus far has some sort of drain attached, though they have yet to be used). However, the premise of the onsen is that a person must thoroughly clean themselves before going in it. Most of my friends find this disgusting, and yet we'd readily step into a hot tub with other people we don't know in a random hotel who may or may not have bathed recently. :o

But someone may say, “In that situation, you're wearing a swimsuit!” And, that's where the rental swimsuits come in. Does it really make a difference? If you're getting into a vat of boiling water, does it matter if you're clothed or not or who is in there with you? And, does that thin extra skin prevent you from obtaining diseases passed around in a common-place swimming pool in America?! GAHH! No, it doesn't! I mean, it'll prevent dirt, sand, and other obvious things, but if you consider that there are over 20,000 STDs that go right through condoms (most people don't know this and I find it sad :/ ), then a swim suit can probably only do so much against the things that people are truly scared of.

So, after having thought this all out . . . an onsen seems insanely clean in comparison to swimming pools that we use without flinching. Heck, even the trains are cleaner here (we watched in awe two days ago before transferring onto our final train as several men and women dressed in blue and pink respectively went through and cleaned each train car before we were allowed on). The pain-staking care that the Japanese put into keeping everything clean for everyone . . . I bow down to it. To those who are afraid of onsen, I hope that this gives you some courage!

However, I had other problems. Even though I've lost tons of weight, I've never worn a bikini before and I'm always shy showing any skin in public, so this was hard for me at first. I did not allow it to mar my enjoyment of Yunessun, though! The onsen they have are incredible! We bathed in coffee, wine, green tea, sake, charcoal, and my new all-time favorite, chocolate. I could have possibly spent the whole day soaking in the chocolate! There are short slides, and the park seems geared toward kids in the actual pools for which there is swimming, but we still had a great time. :)

Yunessun was even more cool than I expected. To my pleasure, their mascots were a family of square-shaped cats! Adorable! We purchased a small tin of butter-crackers that had their likenesses on it so that we could remember them forever. On the first floor is a trick art museum that you have to pay to go in to, so we didn't go. But, from looking at the stuff they were selling outside of it, it featured the sorts of things like the picture of a woman who, if you look at it one way looks like an old woman, and another way looks like a young one.

The second floor was a small arcade. Most of the games didn't make sense to us, but it was really fun to look through all the things there anyway. :)

The third floor featured shopping and entrances to cafes and restaurants, as well as pamphlets in English on your way up to the fourth floor. There are two parts of Yunessun; one part where you can walk around naked, and another where you have to wear a swimsuit. We only used the swimsuit side.

The coolest thing about Yunessun was that not only do you get a locker big enough to hold things for an entire family (in America, the lockers for places like this are always small, so small that you carry only a wallet with you, and then you constantly go back and forth to get it to pay for things), but you get a wristband that you can wear in the water. The wrist band has the number of your locker, and when you wave it in front of the pad on your locker, it locks or unlocks it for you! But wait, there's more! Since carrying yen around with you would be inconvenient, the wrist band also acts as your tab for your stay at Yunessun! You don't even need to dress up to go to a restaurant for lunch! They scan your wristband, and off you go!

Also, I was happy to discover that you get a wrap as well as a towel so that you are not exposed until you are ready to get into an onsen or pool. It was all very convenient, clean, and fun. :) However, if you think that by staying on the swimsuit-only side that you won't have to get naked in front of people, you'll be wrong unless you wear your swimsuit under your clothes. In every water park I've been in within America, there was a changing room, or girls would change in the bathroom if they were really shy, and that's no problem. However, at Yunessun I was startled to find that there were only the locker room, a bathroom that has a sign specifically requesting that you don't change in there (which makes sense, considering how differently they treat their restrooms than we do in America), and a shower room where you also can't change. =^oo^= I wouldn't have been so nervous to change in front of women, but several women had brought their little boys into the locker room and didn't seem a bit concerned by the fact that they were literally staring at me! I felt like I was putting on a strip show for children, but no one seemed to mind and thankfully, I was in my bikini quickly enough.

The rest of the day we spent on the romance car, the Hakone cable car, and then the rope car. Unfortunately, it got too misty for us to see Mt. Fuji again! Curse you, mist! :} It was a fun ride anyhow, though. :)

On the way back to the hotel for dinner, I convinced Terinati to stop at a 7-11 for food just in case dinner was bad again so that we could just retire to the hotel room and eat. However, tonight's dinner was very delicious, if a bit startling. It was all seafood, and the kind I very much like! As with the last two meals here, one of the servers explained something on the table we had to cook to enjoy. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw the clam wiggle a little in front of Terinati, but decided I must have imagined it. Then, while he was talking, my clam moved around tons. My eyes must have been HUGE, and I totally missed how to cook the poor thing, so it was good that Terinati was paying attention. Once the server was sure Terinati knew what to do, he lit up the fire beneath the clams and I watched with sorrow and apologies to the clams that they were being cooked alive in front of us. I think the server overheard me at one point, but I am not ashamed! :} I know food gets killed before I eat it, but watching something be cooked alive is different than killing something and then cooking it. However, perhaps that is how all clams must be cooked?

Despite feeling sorry for the clam and worrying that it would squirm again as I cut into it (it doesn't look that different when it's dead!!), it was very delicious! There was also fish and a divine stew . . . and miso, which I quickly passed up. So, to my delight, dinner was very good!

Then again, as I was sitting here, Terinati got up and had to spray a roach. :p He claimed that he had “gotten it” despite my reservations as he went to the sink room to get tissues or toilet paper to pick it up and dispose of it, and then came back to find that it was gone. Trying to make it an optimistic situation, he said that the roach, now covered in poison, would bring the poison back to its home. I am unconvinced that this is enough to eliminate a roach problem. :p It's even more disturbing to me because now it's not just in the rooms with water, but the very room adjacent to where we sleep. I don't care if they don't bite; I don't want to accidentally take a roach home with us in our luggage and have it infest our apartment. * shudder * Or anywhere else we stay in Japan. YUCK! I didn't even see any holes in here, so where did that thing come from? UGH! . . . Sadly, because of that, I don't think I can stay at this hotel again. I know it must be hard to get rid of roaches once you have them, especially when you run a business like this, but I feel like I shouldn't have to worry about roaches getting into my luggage, or my towel, or my clothes, or anywhere in my space while I'm paying this much money to be somewhere. :} I don't know what Japanese standards are in regard to this, but I have a hard time believing that if it were in someone's personal home, they wouldn't be worried about all of the problems that come with roaches. Sadly, I almost can't wait to leave this hotel just to get away from my concerns about how serious the roach problem is and the potential consequences. :/ I guess I just have to hope that was the last of the roach experiences. Mew? On a comforting note, I'm sure that Inside Japan Tours didn't know about it when they set up the place. We should probably let them know; I don't think the roaches are going away any time soon, considering the reaction to them. Spray is not sufficient for killing off such sturdy, crafty things!

. . . I miss my Stardust kitty, on so many levels!!

Anyway, I'm going to have some sweets before heading to bed, so I'll talk tomorrow! Hopefully I will have internet again at our next location, but we'll see what happens.

Day 6 - To Hakone! Onsen Land!

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Sunday, June 21st, 2009.

Today, we decided to take it easy. Tourism can be very demanding, and in our excitement we probably pushed ourselves too hard the first several days. Hence the leg injury, right? :}

Even though it is a fasting day for us, I couldn't pass up another delicious breakfast at the Green Age Inn. I was sad to go and leave the bed and breakfast style location behind, but it was now raining heavily in Nikko, the first real rain we've seen since our arrival (lucky, since it's rainy season here), so even if we hadn't seen a ton of it already, touring it in the rain would be unpleasant.

So, after a relaxed breakfast, we caught the bus to the JR station and spent most of the day on the rail heading to Odawara. I don't think I mentioned it before, but riding the JR train makes me realize several things. The first is that cutesy music in Japanese video games and shows must be normal here; at every JR stop and some other stops, a tinkly tune that reminds me of a magical candy land plays. In America, it would be cheesy, but here it seems very common-place. The second is that men here have less to fear in the ways of possibly appearing homosexual. Whereas in America, girls would be the only people you would catch with a fan, I've mostly seen men carrying them here, fanning themselves when coming on the train from a humid stop. I've also noticed ever since we got on the airplane to come to Japan that the way that people dress in movies and in cartoons is not that far off from real life. In fact, I can hardly see a lapse at all most of the time. I am impressed that the information we have on Japanese culture seems to be so accurate. Then again, perhaps I would change my mind if I understood more.

Today was interesting, as if we leveled up. Gradually, I've been remembering more and more Japanese from our studies, and I think we'd have to be pretty ignorant to not pick up a few things, especially travel lingo. If buses weren't so noisy most of the time with other tourists, we could probably find our stops by ear now! Sugoi! Also, even though I've worried that the next inn in line would be disappointing compared to the ones before it, the Green Age Inn was definitely great!

And now, we've reached our next destination in Hakone! We are staying at the Ichinoyu Houkan, which is our very first ryokan! After accidentally getting off at the stop before it (some stops have similar names, add or remove a word), we passed some beautiful scenery and arrived at the hotel, which looked exactly like its picture. As I walked in, I admit I felt momentarily intimidated. This is clearly an upper-class location, and I have a feeling that we didn't look like the type of clientel they're used to getting, especially hauling our luggage in. We switched into slippers and locked up our shoes in wooden lockers, and were led to our amazing “room”. I say room in quotes because it's really several, incredible rooms!

First, you enter a hall where I've read you take off your slippers before entering the main room, which we did, locking the outside door behind us. The next room is empty with a tatami floor and sliding doors on all sides. One is a closet which has our traditional, real yukata (the last two inns had bathrobes like modern yukata, but weren't the real thing like here!), towels, and toothbrushes all on a tray. On the opposite wall is where the futons (not like American futons, which are crap; these are traditional, old-style futons which are for sleeping on the tatami on in the next room).

Finally, opening the sliding doors across from the hall that was left behind (which is sealed off by its own sliding doors), you enter a dining area. Strange, because there's a restaurant to eat at, until you realize they've set us up with a great variety of tea and a few sweets on the table, and traditional floor chairs. There will be pictures on Flickr, but once again I am without an internet connection to work with. :/ In fact, I'm going to have to unplug something in here just to be able to charge this poor thing! Anyway, the room is beautiful. When we sleep, we move the bed aside. It should be noted that there are no “regular” chairs in this room, just the ones on the floor with the low table. There is a TV, a safe, and a few other discreet odds and ends including a water heating thingy.

Then, another sliding door! This leads into a patio-like room with a window to our PRIVATE HOT SPRING BATH! :O SUGOI DESU!! There are wicker chairs here (the regular, American kind) and a small table so you could take your tea or whatever else you have and eat while gazing out to the pretty area. Even though it's an outdoor, private bath, you can see trees, a spring, etc. This is just like the onsen, but a hot spring instead. Additionally, there is a refrigerator in the room for storing food and drinks (the hotel has its own store of sweets and treats, so I'm sure this will come in useful. :)

The next room is the shower. There is no American-style bath as there has been in the last places we stayed, so it's purely for showering. Soap, shampoo, and conditioner are provided. It's a traditional, old-style Japanese shower, so there is a little wood thing to sit on and a bucket for pouring water over yourself. It's very pretty, and I can't WAIT to use it. Adjacent to it is the exit to the outdoor bath. In the opposite direction is a bathroom, not to be confused with the Japanese “furoba,” but specifically a tiny room with its own slippers for going pee. Heated toilet again. Sweet! It really does make a difference in comfort. :}

That's it! It's the biggest, coolest space we've had so far. I can't imagine feeling more spoiled than we do now.

Since we only have a few hours before dinner, we're going to go walk around the area and see what there is to see. :) Talk later! 3:38pm Japan Time.

6:36pm Japan Time

Terinati and I headed out and started walking, but then decided to hop on the bus and see where it takes us because Hakone is lacking in sidewalks. As we rode the bus, Terinati read in our tour guide and we realized the bus would take us to the Venetian Glass Museum, which I thought looked gorgeous and wanted to see. So, we rode the bus, heard the stop for it (which isn't the stop they tell you to use in the tour guide, but is right at it! We're proud of ourselves!), and it was worth the money to get in and see it all. Gorgeous, romantic . . . I highly recommend it to any couple looking for a romantic place and to girls seeking a princess-y destination. Trees that glimmer with glass willow leaves, a bridge shimmering with colors of the rainbow as the sun sets against it, and a lovely garden . . . But, there was more than that! The museum itself is a must-see, and were we not traveling so far, the souvenirs to be purchased would have been highly desirable. Even the foods looked really tasty, but are mostly things we can find in the states (though, these may have been better quality; not sure).

I hadn't realized that something missing from this trip thus far was me feeling feminine again. I really felt like a lady or a princess exploring a beautiful castle. There's also a restaurant there, but we did not partake.

There was quite a bit of traffic on the way back, which we suspect is because it is Sunday evening and most people are probably ending their trips in Hakone. I tried to access the internet by paying 100 yen for ten minutes of service, but the connection was very slow compared to connecting at Toyoko Asakusa Inn, I had to use their computer which forbade cookies (and, consequently, my ability to accept comments on my blog). I managed to briefly check my e-mail though, and more importantly, accept my classes! Yay! But, blogging will have to wait until we leave Hakone, it appears. :(

For now, I sit and type with a beautiful cup of tea (it is white with little pink flowers) and Terinati in view, enjoying the bath (he said it was extremely hot, so he had to use the focet for cold water to be able to even get into it). In a short while, we will go to dinner and then have a massage that we paid for in the room. I'm a little nervous (strange people touching my body in a foreign place! AHHH!), but it is our honeymoon and I'm looking forward to this. :)

P.S. - The machine next to the refrigerator looks like a dehumidifier for the bath. To anyone else who is staying here, don't be like Terinati and turn it off! :}

Talk later! 6:46pm Japan Time

Monday, June 22nd, 2009. 6:52pm Japan Time.

Well, the perfection couldn't continue forever yesterday. :} We went to dinner, and . . . well, it was kind of disgusting. Not in a, “Ew, how can you run an establishment like this?” sort of way, but in a, “I'm sorry, but no matter how open-minded I am . . . this tastes like crap.” Perhaps I was spoiled by the Green Age Inn, but the dinner was trouble in many ways. First, it was a fasting day, so I wasn't even hungry. I only went because it's included in our payment for this hotel, which I could tell was expensive. So, I wasn't in the mood for eating but was hoping to be pleasantly surprised as I was at the Green Age Inn. Second, the food needed instructions for us to know what it was and how to eat it. We've had sushi before, and other Japanese dishes, but these things were as foreign as you could get. I imagine that there are people in Japan who don't know how to eat this stuff because it came from so long ago. Third, as mentioned before, it didn't taste good and there were truck-loads of it. So, in addition to feeling guilty and ashamed for not knowing how to eat whatever it was, there was tons of it surrounding me and it was too disgusting to make it disappear. :/ Fourth and finally, you could serve yourself drinks (weird, because the place is so fancy that this part seems absolutely bizarre and non-sensical to me; if you're getting served food, you should get served your drinks as well), but you're only options is what they have available for you. If you bring in your own drink to enjoy, it costs $10 a drink! :O WHAT?!

So, I didn't enjoy it, and feeling embarrassed for not enjoying it (they worked so hard!) made me feel queasy. I thought that a dip in a private, awesome, outdoor onsen would make me feel better before getting the massages we reserved, however I was in for another surprise.

As I went in to the sink room and saw Terinati's towel from his earlier dip askew and lying in a fashion that would make it hard to dry, I adjusted it. I had just set down my yukata and towel in a little basket so that I could have them when I was done and was about to head in the shower. However, as I moved the towel a cockroach (no, not those little roaches like what I've seen all over Maryland, which are the length of a pinky tip; this was the REAL thing, nearly the size of a mouse) had climbed into the basket and was about to get into my clothes! AHHHHH!! =^><^= Like the girl that I am, I screamed. After all, my trusty Stardust wasn't here to eat it, and I rely on my cats for protection from icky things like this. Terinati was not helpful. “It's just a cockroach,” he said. “They don't bite.” :} Entirely not the point!

I escaped the sink room with my things unscathed, and Terinati chased it back to “its hole” and thoughts reeled through my head such as the notion that where there is one roach, there are bound to be more, and they make their home in the walls of buildings, so this thing could pop out anywhere there was a space just big enough for it to emerge . . . possibly even into the area where we would be sleeping on the floor. Thoroughly creeped out by the idea of thousands of roaches crawling over me as I slept and into my mouth (yes, I know it's ridiculous, but I have a very vivid imagination), I begged Terinati to let someone know the situation.

Poor Terinati. They don't call them roaches here, and we're not sure what the word is. In the end, after much gesturing and trying to explain, he brought the man to show him. The gross part? As soon as he pointed to the tiny sliver of a hole in the wall that it disappeared to, the guy knew exactly what he was talking about and came back with roach spray. :| He sprayed the area thoroughly for us and left the spray for us to use. That's not what bothers me; I'm bothered by the fact that he knew there were roaches.

I pondered this for a while. How does an establishment close down to deal with that sort of problem? Is it worth dealing with since the rooms are right next to the outdoors? Then again, aren't all houses next to the outdoors for lack of anywhere else to be? In the end, I got up the courage to shower and use the onsen, though I did it with quite paranoia and did not relax as much as I would have liked.

The night redeemed itself with the massages. OMG, they were the best thing EVAR! If you come to this hotel, you MUST get their massages. The price is absolutely worth it. I drooled, I fell asleep, and I felt AWESOME.

Anyway, after pondering it for a long time, I think between the not-tasty food (at least, in my opinion; someone else may enjoy it) and the roaches, I wouldn't want to come back here again. There are too many other ryokan and hotels in Hakone for me to believe that I couldn't do a little better. Still, the experience was exciting and enlightening. :) Now I know there are roaches in Japan! :}

Time for another dinner now, so I'll be writing about today after that in a separate blog. Ja mata!

Day 5 - Hike of Doom / Kegon Falls

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Saturday, June 20th, 2009. 5:23pm Japan Time.

This morning I woke up early to my surprise. My entire body was telling me what it thought of all the walking I had been doing, but my leg didn't hurt . . . yet? I did stretches, happy to have more space to do them, and showered because the Onsen made a mess of my hair! Perhaps I will use that shower cap tonight. :}

After a delightful breakfast that mirrored the dinner from the night before (SO GOOD! Eggs any way you requested, ham, a pineapple shaped like a fish, and so on!), we went out and caught the bus to Akechidaira, where we got off. Unfortunately, even though we rode up the gondola to see the sights, there was too much mist. And, even though my leg was on the mend and I knew I should rest it, we read in our book that there was only a 60 minute hike, so I said I could handle that. I should have listened when the woman told us it was 3 hours.

The hike is a big mistake. Unless you really love hiking, don't do it. :} There were a few pretty views, but DANG, I don't remember ever in my life using a hiking trail that dangerous. It was narrow with lots of slippery edges, and you have to use a lot of roots to climb up, which is confusing because there are many dead roots on the trail that will fall out if you climb on them. :o It is incredibly steep, and even where there are stairs on the way down, the steps are HUGE and broken. If you're horrified of spiders, you definitely can't go here. They're everywhere. All of that being said, if I had not already been sore and my leg already injured, I may have enjoyed it more. The scariest part wasn't really all of that (even though I'm a very clumsy person and had some serious close calls many times along the way; no longer surprised we didn't see anyone else eager to take it!). The scary part was when we got lost. All of the signs are in Japanese only, and there are several places where the trail branches off into other trails that had nothing to do with our end destination. Worst of all, the path that we're told to take on our map is now roped off, hence the short trip turning into a 3-hour long one. :( If my leg hadn't been specifically getting worse going down stairs and downhill, this would have been fine, though, because where we had to get ourselves back on track was a better stretch of trail. The first 1.5km were HORRIBLE, but everything else was perfectly reasonable, by my standards. We ended up probably going 5 or 6km total by the time we reached a cemetery at the end of the trail. I jokingly said to Terinati that those were the people who hadn't survived the nasty journey. ;}

All in all, other than wasting more time than intended on the trail (we missed a boat ride at the end of the day :( ), I was proud of us for surviving it. My leg is not as bad as it was the previous days, but I wish I hadn't pushed it so hard. Hopefully the trip to our next destination tomorrow will give it time to heal. After sitting for a while around Lake Chuzenji, my leg did feel better (so its recovering faster than it was! Yay!), and we walked around the shops on the way to view Keigon Falls and found a cheap place that was virtually empty right across from the viewing area! Don't be deterred by reasonable prices! The soba and mushroom noodle dish I had there was very filling and delicious, and the nice woman gave us a sweet treat to eat for dessert. I also found some gifts to take come to a few of my co-workers once I return also. :) So, it was definitely a good find. I wish I could tell you the place's name, but we didn't even get a receipt from there so I have no idea what it was called. Just look for the woman who isn't dying to get you inside her shop!

The Keigon Falls were beautiful and made me feel better about the horrible hike. :} It is a fun place, especially since there were Japanese tourists all around, smiling and having a good time. I felt less out of place than I had in Tokyo, and we got a nice man to take our picture for us. :) It was tempting to get souvenirs, like a bell that sounded like the crying dragon we heard in the Toshogu temple yesterday, but we restrained ourselves. After all, I already have a tiny Nemuri Neko. :}

We had wanted to go for a boat tour of the lake and see another waterfall, but after having some fantastic ice cream up the street from there, we were too late and the last boat ride was just returning, so we headed home instead.

To our surprise, as we approached the hotel there were several cars now parked outside! :o Since the only other person staying in the hotel with us had left this morning, we were hoping to have it to ourselves so that we could secure the Onsen after dinner, but we'll see what happens. :} However, dinner will be more interesting with other people filling up the other tables for which places have not yet been set since we arrived, and I'm also glad because I think the inn definitely deserves the busienss.

Speaking of dinner, there's about fifteen minutes until it starts. I think I'm going to pack up a few things for tomorrow and get ready to head down. Talk another day! :)

Day 4 - Nikko

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Friday, June 19th, 2009.

This morning, Terinati and I woke up later than usual. It didn't seem like a big deal until I asked, “Hey, how and where do we need to be to get to Nikko today?” Soon after, we discovered that we had less than an hour to pack up and leave to get to our train! Yikes!

I didn't have time for a final shower, so I just did my hair and washed up and packed our things. It was a little sad to me to say good-bye to our very first hotel in Japan. As I slipped off the slippers and put on my sandals and went to take the key and its stick out of the wall slot, I bowed and wished the room good-bye. I'm pretty sure we had the best room at Toyoko Asakusa Inn, and will miss it there. We made it to the station (with some friendly Japanese help!) just in time to catch the train prior to its departure. On the way, I read about Nikko, because I had trouble finding information about it online previously.

Once on the train, we worried about what to do with our luggage. I determined that since there are luggage services to send your luggage ahead of time, surely the inns would be able to hold the luggage for us while we toured around until it was check-in time. I was fortunate enough to be correct! Huzzah! So, screw paying approximately $20 to ship luggage ahead of us. It proved to be unnecessary.

Nikko was described as a place with temples so gaudy that it would cause artistic stomachache. Apparently, I have a stomach of steel because it seems beautiful here to me! Trees everywhere, it is very different than Tokyo. Tokyo wasn't like New York or Los Angeles or anything, but it did have a sort of city feel. Although I feel like I had gotten into the rhythm of Tokyo very well, it is refreshing to feel like the area is less busy around us. When we return to America, it's probably going to be like information overload for a while. :/

While we were waiting for check-in time at 3pm, we managed to use up four hours touring all of the temples and shrines in the surrounding area. They were beautiful, and I picked up a Nemuri Neko (sleeping cat) charm in the process. Unfortunately, my knee is still giving me trouble, so the going was slow and rough. We're stretching more and trying to take things easy so that we don't cause more damage. It is improved from yesterday, so there is hope!

We have checked in to our inn, the Green Age Inn, and it does not appear to have internet of any kind. The entire place is pretty rustic, so this blog will have to be posted the next time I have access to the internet. That's somewhat scary because I need to get online at some point to accept my courses that I'm taking when I get back. EEK. :} Perhaps I will find internet in a cafe somewhere or something. I want to go on a hunt for apples since we haven't had much by way of fruit since we got here and I think both of our stomachs are starting to notice. There's food everywhere, but I haven't seen a grocery store once yet! Perhaps I am looking for the wrong thing.

Anyway, since I didn't get to shower yet and we want to use the Onsen downstairs later, I'm going to clean up (I know you can do it in the showers before the bath itself, but my hair... well, it's a lot of trouble if not properly maintained and put up, so I'd like to wash it up here first), and Terinati will either continue his nap on his new bed or perhaps he will go out apple hunting for me. :}

A note on the room we have: it's big, getting close to the regular size of an American hotel room, but still closer quarters than normal (the furniture is closer together with small pathways). Even though this hotel has an English feel to it (Terinati and I both think it's princess-y with it's flower patterns and chandelier right in the little dining area of the room), there are still slippers and the little step up to the bathroom where you take off the slippers again. I'm very much used to these customs after only a few days and know it's going to feel strange to not have to follow them when we return home.

I also miss our cats. :( I want to hug them both, but especially Stardust. I don't feel homesick, but I miss them and our other loved ones very much.

More to come later! 4:12pm Japan Time!

Saturday, June 20th, 2009.

The afternoon yesterday was pretty delightful! On our way back to the hotel from visiting the temples, we saw a bus full of school children. Several of the boys shouted hello to us in English as we passed by and waved, and we smiled and waved back, saying, “Hello!”

Terinati went in search of fruit while I took my shower. The sink and shower use the same pipe, so there's a little knob to switch the valves. There were two bottles of “Refresht” products, and after I was in the shower I figured out that the Engrish on the side indicated that one was a body wash and the other was a shampoo/conditioner combo. As in Toyoko Asakusa Inn, we were provided with toothbrushes and toothpaste to use in the bathroom, along with a shower cap which I may need to use in the Onsen.

Dinner was the next event, and it was fantastic. At first, I wasn't sure about the Green Age Inn when I saw it. The building is a little run down, and even though the bedroom makes me feel like a princess, it also comes along with the creepy feeling I have in any place that is clearly old and not necessarily as well kept up as a modern hotel. This is a kind of atmosphere I generally enjoy because it instills visions of adventure and romantic fantasy, but the bathroom water pressure and fixtures left something to be desired, so it needed a little bit more to make it worth being here versus somewhere else in Nikko. Dinner went above and beyond what was needed. Screw fancy hotels and their perfect features when you have the hostess serving you dinner at a fancy dining room.

As a preface, Terinati and I generally came to Japan with the notion of wanting to try as much authentic local food as possible. However, an English meal at the Green Age Inn is a must. When you sit down, you have the most proper table settings with gorgeous plates with etched rims and real silver silverware. And no, not just the spoon, fork, and knife, but the whole shabang as they say. There were more forks and knives than I could name, and a wine list if you choose to pay extra for the extravagance. Considering that the dinner is included with the stay, it blew my mind that we were served so many courses. I honestly lost count. We had tea, water, freshly made bread, fish, squash soup, orange duck (I think; it was some kind of poultry), salad, and some other thing that I know came from the sea but am not sure what it was. I was so full, but then there was a dessert of flan and frozen yogurt as well! Even though it was a fasting day, I was glad that I had not missed that.

During dinner, we discovered there was only one other guest at the hotel. It was creepy knowing we had so much space to ourselves. After dinner, Terinati and I decided to use the private Onsen which is also included with the hotel stay. Fancy, ne?! For those who don't know, Onsen is a bath that is part of a Japanese bathing ritual. In this Onsen, you enter a room and lock the door. In this room is only a mirror and a sink, and then baskets on the opposite wall. We assumed that you use the baskets to put your clothes in. Leaving all clothing behind here, you go into the next room which includes the Onsen bath, a separate entrance into a restroom if you need it, and two showers on the ground. The Onsen is always full of steamy, hot water in a large, wooden bath, so the next part is important. Everyone who comes in must wash themselves thoroughly in the shower. After that, you can enter the Onsen and relax. It was fantastic, and I could tell that it helped my knee. It was so refreshing, and I'm glad that we tried it. This Onsen is cool because it locks, so it's not like public Onsen, which we haven't tried yet. I'm shy! * hides *

After that, we went to bed, and I had the best sleep I've had for a long time with romantic dreams.

More to come in another blog!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Day 3 - Kitty Island

To see all the pictures from the honeymoon as I upload them (the ones in my blog only skim the surface), check out:

Today started very rough, as you could probably tell from my hectic post for Day 2 earlier. Walking all day yesterday had repercussions, even with working hard to stay hydrated and stretching. I was incredibly sore when I got up, as was Terinati, and as of now my right knee seems to have some problem. It hurts the most when I go downstairs, but in general it doesn't feel good; I'm trying my best to be careful with it.

After showering, I did feel a lot better, though my leg only got worse throughout the day. Since it was an eating day, I ate breakfast in the lobby for the first time, and it was great! There was bread, scrambled eggs, sausages, some kind of spiced rice triangle (delicious!), a potato salad with apples in it, and some kind of corn soup. It was all fantastic, and the morning was fun because it was crowded and a nice woman with two boys asked to sit next to us and complimented Terinati on his chop stick skills. :)

Our plan for today after that has been in the works for two years. Shortly after getting engaged and discussing the possibility of being able to save up enough money for Japan for our honeymoon, we did a search online for romantic locations. Enoshima came up in a few other blogs, and we immediately fell in love. Not only is it the island of the goddess Benten, who grants artistic ability as well as war ability and is prayed to specifically for love (they have Valentine's festivals there every year, with fireworks and everything!), but the island was described as being inhabited entirely with cats. We had a hard time finding a picture online without a kitty in it! Thus, we were inspired to name our website that we created a short while later "Kitty Island" after this cool place.

When we spoke to Inside Japan Tours, we insisted that this is one place we had to go, so today was the day! After three train trips to get there, we walked down Benten Bashi (Benten Bridge) toward Enoshima...

We had been planning to take the ferry to the island, but the ferry was not running today. :} Our poor feet had no idea what they were in for.

At the end of the bridge, it's just like any famous beach property; food, surfers, and a big crowd of people shopping. I'm glad we didn't opt to go swimming ourselves because there was some really gross garbage in the water, and I bet it was pretty cold despite it being summer.

A short while in, I inquired to Terinati about this elevator we could take to the top, but we discovered it cost money so we weren't going to take it. :( Sorry, knee! POORness. :/ So, we started the walk here and went all the way around the island to see everything. It took all day!

This was only the first of many stairs around the island. :} I had no idea how much there was to see!

While this statue was impressive, with Benten and the Dragon god of prosperity, most people just walked right by it because it's nothing compared to everything else you would see. I still like it quite a bit, though!

Just to the right of that is this washing basin. We were fortunate enough to see a Japanese couple come up and use it before we did so ourselves. Although we can't read to know for sure, we suepct that a person must be purified before approaching the shrines.

While there, we wrote our own prayer to Benten. I remembered how to write our names in Katakana! Go me! It was sweet to glance at the other cards (I was trying hard not to read them because those thoughts are personal and special, ne?), especially when we saw some with only one name and a question mark for their potential partner. Dreams of love are something magical, and I think people have to be special to believe in them, especially enough to write them down!

Next stop was to see the prosperity dragon god. Isn't he cool?

All around the dragon is this pool of water. I saw some men and women wash their money, even paper cash money, by placing it into a small bowl basket, like Terinati is doing in the above picture, and then getting it wet in the waters. I suspect this has to do with the dragon's water multiplying the amount that you wash.

In the same area, we also discovered the triforce. :} What does it mean?! Why is it associated with safe driving? This blows my mind, in a Benten shrine.

We also saw this bell, which is the Bell of Dragon's Love. I don't know the whole legend, but supposedly many people come to ring this bell and pray for their eternal love. Instead of using paper, most people brought locks to add to the rows you can see here. So, if you want to do something really different for your loved one and are going to be near enough Enoshima, I recommend taking your sweetie here.

There were also historical caves which we were sent to explore using a birthday candle in little homemade sort of tray. The cave was really awesome! I'd have had no complaints, had I not been getting so sore that it was impossible not to wince when I walked downhill anymore.

Quite possibly one of the most enchanting moments that I just had to record a snippet of was this monk singing in the Enoshima Daishi. I wanted to buy a CD of it, but they seemed to have already sold out. :(
Time was certainly flying, especially after we got top of the lighthouse and took some pictures of the view. There was so much to see. It literally took us all day to get there, explore, and come back. But, was it worth it? Yes! I recommend the trip, but keep in mind, be prepared to pay if you can't handle the walk.

But wait! That's not all, right?! So, how many kitties did I see on Kitty Island? From the very moment I walked on it, I saw a cat (that one ran away from being photographed, though). In my photos, I counted 28 of them! I'll post a few of my favorites here:

This kitty found a nice place to gather some sun in the garden.

There were three kitties we found on motorcycles!

This kitty was grumpy about getting its picture taken at first, until Terinati started giving it scritches!

This kitty waltzed right into a restaurant where it was instantly greeted with affection and pets! I imagine that in America, this would not happen. Any cat wandering into a restaurant would be gotten rid of as soon as possible, because of possible germs and such. I'm fond of the fact that cats are treated so well in Japan. :)

Two little kitties sleeping inside one of the buildings. Truly everywhere!

The way back was eventful, too. Terinati managed to get his photo taken with a Japanese police officer:

And, when we got back to the station, I noticed that someone had dressed the stone birds at the boundary of the station:

And, as a last good-bye to Benten, while riding the Japan Rail, we took a photo of a statue of her head that we could see through the window of the train.

Upon the return to the hotel, we started a search for good food. We found an AWESOME place for relatively cheap (850 yen) on Edo Dori, with a green sign across the street from the McDonald's. I don't know the name of it, but you go inside and there is a machine with pictures of all of the meals you can have. You pay the machine, press the button for the meal, and get a ticket. You sit down and hand the ticket off to a helper, and in a moment you are brought raw food to cook yourself right in front of you! In my case, I didn't know how the food would end up, so I needed a little help preparing it. The woman working there was very eager to make sure the meal was a success! And, the best part? Once you're done you don't have to wait for the check! Since you paid already (oh, and not only do you get the food of your choice, but also a miso soup, salad, and water with a pitcher right next to you to refill), you just get up and walk out! I loved it. :) The food was delicious! The only problem was that my food, fried rice mixed with Korean rice, was so much that it really was too big of a serving for one person.

On the same street, we discovered something amusing:

I have to wonder how Japanese folks choose their works. :} Is it magical coffee? Is it fake coffee? Why a charade? Ah well!

Finally, to end the day before coming home, I decided to pick up some McDonald's to go. Why, when I can have that any time in America? Because I just needed to know if it was different or not. For the most part, it ended up being the same. I think it may have been slightly different. The fries were the same, but they tasted like they were either cooked in less oil (which can be a store-to-store thing in America), or a different oil altogether. Hard to tell, so probably just less oil in that batch. The burger definitely was better only because I forgot to ask for no onions (I love onions, but McDonald's onions are disgusting), but ate it anyway and it tasted delicious! Yay! However, there were some cute differences on the menu, such as offering a Smile for 0 yen, and the items in the below picture:

I've never heard of Shaka Shaka Chicken before, have you?

Anyway, I'm falling asleep at the computer as I type now, and Terinati and I are both starting to feel a little under the weather. I'm going to take a bath and head to bed! Oyasumi nasai!