The Friend, The Castle, The Garden, The Trip, The Upgrade!
I got back from Okayama yesterday. I was too tired to write about it, but I will now. I stayed in Katie’s hotel room. Japanese hotels are a bit odd in that they tend to not like people to visit other people’s rooms. So we had to 007/Mission Impossible it a few times. Luckily her hotel seemed to be an upscale Love Hotel because it had two elevators and a nondescript “back door”. These features scream Love Hotel. I lucked out as far as accommodations go, as I didn’t have to pay for any! Due to the size of the room there was a lot of one person waiting in the small little bathroom while the other changed clothes in the main room. It was like one of those elaborate logic puzzles about only having one boat and needing to move a fox, a duck, and corn across the river one at a time and not being able to leave a certain combination alone or one would eat the other.
I arrived about 9:00 Wednesday night, Katie picked me up at the station and we walked around a little bit so I could get my bearings. Thursday Katie had to work in the evening so in the day we explored, ate, and talked. When she went to work about 1:00 I took a nap, and then took the train out to Kibitsu. I now fully appreciate the situation I am in. A train leaves for Osaka every 10 minutes MAX. In Osaka a regular train leaves ever 8 minutes MAX. A shinkansen leaves every 20 minutes MAX going any direction I desire. So I really do not worry about train schedules… at all! I was shocked (shocked!) to learn that the train leaving Okayama left on the hour and half-hour. I looked at the schedule two or three times because it just didn’t seem right. Trains leaving so far apart were unfathomable to me. ‘Tis true my loyal readers, it does happen! The trains are still on time (because this is Japan) but that was a real shock to me. When I got out at Kibitsu, I had to actually take note of when my return train would depart. CRAZY! UNBELIEVABLE!
The Kibitsu Shrine is an old Shinto shrine. This happied me greatly. Despite the fact that old Shinto Shrines did not have torii (the Shinto gate), I was still really excited to go. Torii evolved from a rope strung between two poles. Many torii feature the rope. I love torii. Many torii had been built at the shrine subsequently, but they were stone and not vermillion giving them a much more rustic Shinto feel to me. Unfortunately the highlight of the complex, the main shrine, was under renovation. It featured pre-Buddhist architecture, and was something I really wanted to see. Alas, I had to make due with side buildings and the long stroll. This shrine features a long covered corridor that stretches about 400 meters (1,200 feet). It was quite a site. I also got a chance to experience rural Japan, something I have never really experience before. While strolling at dusk I met some high school girls fresh from archery classes. We talked while all walking back to the train station. Japanese people are often desperate to try their English skills, but require you to make the first move. I asked, in Japanese (might I add!), “What is that?” pointing to the bow that was covered in cloth. The girl told me, in English, “Japanese archery”. Then a whole bunch of them were all talking to me about archery and joking about being strong. It was fun.
I got back to Okayama, and Katie and some friends went out to eat. It was up to me (shockingly) to order us stuff because I had the best functional Japanese at the table. Katie helped a lot (as she knows a lot more kanji than I do), but I was feeling the speaking pressure! We managed to get some delicious stuff though. Then it was off for a few drinks (none by me) and to Katie’s room where we watched a show about cephalopods (octopus, cuttlefish, squid, etc.). Katie and I were mesmerized for a bit then went to bed. Katie is great because we can totally geek out on stuff like bridges, differential equations, and cephalopods. As a geek out aside, the Japanese have photographed the first live giant squid, congrats to Tsunemi Kubodera and Kyoichi Mori -- the researchers in charge.
Katie had all of Friday off, so we hit the town. First we went to the Korakuen Garden, which is the third most beautiful garden in Japan. I say that because it shows the strange Japanese habit of numbering everything. There is always “the number one/two/three/etc. _______ in (your city)/(your prefecture)/(Japan).” So, in this case, Korakuen is the third best garden in Japan. I can see it. The grounds were beautiful. There was a river system cut through the main yard, it branched off into pools and falls and into forests. There were a few groves of trees, a few rice patties, tea plants, and tea houses. It was quite and a bastion in the busy city. I found it to be very gratifying despite the fact that I am not a garden person. The garden also afforded beautiful views of Okayama Castle (Ujo) which is also called Crow Castle. It is called Crow Castle because of Himaji Castle (the number 1 most beautiful castle in Japan – see what I mean about the numbering thing?). Himaji Castle is all white and is the “Crane Castle”. Apparently the Daimyo of Okayama didn’t like the Himaji Daimyo so he built his castle black instead of the, more traditional, white. (Aside Daimyo = Japanese official during feudalism equal to a Lord or Baron in the Western systems) I must say the black castle was really pleasing. It looked really menacing and evil. I liked it, a lot. The main castle had been burnt down several times, and so we were in a reconstruction made out of concrete made into a museum. It lost a little charm because of that, but a single torrent of the original was still standing and we were allowed to go into it. I like Ujo.
Katie and I also were dressed up as a samurai and a geisha (minus the makeup). I need the pictures from Katie. I think my camera is dying; it is burning through the new battery I got it. It was fun, the Japanese tourists laughed at us, we laughed at us, the dresser laughed at us. It was a good time. I looked rather silly in pants that would have caused me to feel an unpleasant breeze had I not been wearing my slacks underneath. Katie looked quite lovely in her sparkly peach kimono until they added about 2 more layers of kimono. Also, based on the black wig, I can say that Katie should stick with her blond and not die her hair raven. Katie then also sat in a cart that the Daimyo would have been carried in. It was all silly and fun. But the absolute best thing about Ujo was one man. His name is Ikeda Munemasa: the ninth Daimyo of Okayama. His painting was HILARIOUS. Katie and I laughed so hard at it, all we had to do throughout the rest of the trip was say something like, “I’m the Daimyo?!?” or “BWWAHHH?” or simply make the face. He has this look that can only be described as “BWWWAAAAHHHHH?” Why he would keep this portrait of himself around, I have NO idea. It was so funny. It looked like mid painting someone said, “You’re Daimyo now.” And he said, “BWWWAHHHHHH? Me? Daimyo… Seriously? … I mean me? … Really?... *GULP*” I took several photos of his portrait. I loved it so much, it is now my official “BWWAHHH” icon for Live Journal.
I upgraded my Live Journal. So now I can have 15 different icon/avatars. I am proud to have Ideda Munemasa’s comedic genius added to my, already formidable, default: “manga me”, angry: “BG Fashion”, and inspiring: “Cheer Up!” My new Ideda avatar is the avatar that adorns this very post. Look for it whenever I am discussing things that would make me go, “Bwwahhhh?”
Seeing Katie was so nice. She worked really hard to get to Japan, and deserves to be here. She looked much happier than last time I saw her. Seeing her took me back to Oberlin dinners when Fleur, Laurence, and I when we would often be joined by Katie or Greg (they didn’t always eat with us because they had other “friends” – HA! losers). But most of all, Katie’s friendship came at a very important time in my life. Seeing her always reminds me of how far I have come, the help I got along the way, and how far I want to go.