Archive for September, 2008|Monthly archive page

Kyoto Gion: Feed the tourists what they want to see

 

 

tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and music

tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and music

Random Observation/Comment #75: Most tourists are not frugal.  They make excuses for spending money like, “It’s okay, I’m on vacation.”  Tourist attraction companies know this all too well.  They set their prices so it’s low enough that someone wouldn’t think that it’s too ridiculously expensive, but high enough for the tourist to shake their head in shame feeling like they’ve somehow been shafted for the price.  I must admit that it’s a great business and it will always profit.

 

Traveling from Ojika to Kyoto was a 10 hour struggle.  The transfers and schedule timing made my head spin.  Luckily for us, these travel arrangements were all under the capable (soft, silky-smooth, and disease-free) hands of Yuka.  I commend her for a job well done (as opposed to medium-rare).  She was our map, compass, and commentary throughout the entire trip, and I am very grateful for her assistance.

We arrived at Kyoto late in the afternoon – finally, a place I recognize and can actually talk about.  I was itching to start conversations earlier in the trip about Japanese history or my old experiences there, but everywhere I went was completely new to me.  Every moment seared its first impression in my mind and left me extremely happy to be alive and on my own – all the more happy to take more pictures and share the stories with my friends and family (and, evidently, the entire Internet).

Gion – I really wanted to see geisha in the old style streets walking politely with their layers of makeup and cute little wooden slippers.  I was almost tempted to hire one so I could take pictures with them and have them pour tea and dance for me or something.   Luckily, we saw a few in the streets holding the arms of businessmen who had somehow heard my thoughts and taken my ideas.  It probably took them twice as long to get to where they wanted to go because people would keep on stopping and talking to them about the geisha.  I guess this is why a 12x zoom comes in handy from an SLR.  That’s straight creepster status – great job taking those crystal clear pictures like a stalker or a private detective spying on unfaithful husbands.  By the way, these girls walk very briskly with their platform wooden clogging shoes.  The kimono restricts a lot of their thigh angle movement so they need to shuffle like Marvin the Martian from Bugs Bunny ages ago (Gosh, I miss RoadRunner and that crazy Coyote – Saturday morning memories).

Everyone from the tour except Yuka attended an hour performance focused on old Japanese traditions and culture.  I hadn’t seen so many gai-jin in one place for a long time.  Everyone had a camera and they all looked so weird (what’s wrong with their eyes?).  I had been around so many Japanese people, that I felt awkward fully understanding what they said and seeing them do all the obnoxious things with the camera that I do subconsciously.  To me, the start of the performance was observing the audience.  They looked so pasty.

The performance was split into five sections.  The first one was a traditional tea ceremony where an old lady makes really concentrated green tea the old fashion way.  It would have been funny to see her take out a supermarket tea-bag and add hot water very gracefully (ooo, ahh… *snaps pictures).  Instead, she carefully followed all the steps like a skilled barista, as the girls on stage played gorgeous music with their fingertips.  The music also accompanied a flower arranging ceremony, as well (they weren’t that good – I would have made a masterpiece with those two flowers).  Other performances included a comedy spoken in a deep old-Japanese style voice about servants drinking all of their master’s sake while tied up.  Another was a 3-ft puppet controlled by three guys.  It sung and danced to an opera about a prince looking for love, or something like that.

It didn’t really matter what they did in this performance.  To me, the very fact that they get all these tour buses paying $30 per person for an hour show means that they’re just showing the people what they want to see.  It was quite good, but I think that crowd would have been impressed with anything.  Dress up like a samurai and stomp around in circles – great.  I think I had unnecessarily high expectations.  Maybe I was expecting some fireworks or a resurrected dragon.

After the show, we had dinner at a conveyor belt sushi place.  As you can see from the picture below, I left with my hand on my stomach and a smile on my face – completely satisfied with a lovely night.  26 plates was a record for me.  I miss that sushi (especially at $1.25 per plate for all plates).

 

~See Lemons Injected with Japanese Culture

 

so good.

so good.

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Kayaking on an island with one inhabitant

 

 

looks like a whale about to pounce.. cool

looks like a whale about to pounce.. cool

Random Observation/Comment #74: How would you feel if you were the only one who lived on an island?  Sure, you would get guests who come and visit, and daily supplies of food, but what would you do all day?  Spirited survivors stranded on an island at least need to come up with ways to escape the island, plan for food sources in the upcoming days, or occupy their social lives with imaginary friends painted on a volleyball ball (that looks weird, but I think it’s right), but what would someone without these worries do?  I guess they could do anything.  Knowing me, exploration would take up 80% of my time.  I would also probably need a few terabytes of hard drive space for the pictures.

 

From Ojika, half of the group followed Yuka to the island 15 minutes away by ferry.  Only a small section of the island has been paved for hiking because of wildlife preservation (and human preservation).  I only saw a few wild deer walking around the area, but the circle of life guarantees predators not too far away (oh wait, that’s us).  We wouldn’t want over population, would we?

The first activity on the island was sea kayaking.  Like in white water rafting, we were taught the basic safety instructions for about twenty minutes to make sure we know what to do in case we’re drowning (besides the normal panicking and taking big gulps of water).  There really weren’t any rapids to drown from or even reasons to fall off the kayak, but these five-minute safety things won’t sound so stupid when you’re actually caught in one these unfortunate situations. 

I wore rental sandals and hopped on board the kayak with Yuka.  I took the rear seat and did more of the heavy work.  Having done it many times, she was already quite experienced.  The paddle force was not very heavy, and she had a very steady and consistent stroke.  The key is synchronization, which requires good teamwork (oh, don’t be so immature – I’m not speaking in metaphors). 

Kayaking isn’t as fun as it looks.  It takes a lot of skill to go in a straight line, and after a while it’s just tiring.  One of the more fun activities is swimming in the clear water of the small beach surrounded by mountains.  The waves here were a little bit better than those in Zushi, but still very disappointing.  In the Ojika beach, I just enjoyed the feeling of warm sand between my toes and fingers.  The view was phenomenal and there was no place I’d rather be.  I smiled as I floated in that water and looked into the horizon, only to see some light clouds and another island in the distance.  Instead of the Titanic 360 view, I pictured myself slowly zooming out from a Google Map.  It wasn’t mysterious like in Bourne Identity where every zoom in motion is highly segmented and usually accompanied by a very lively orchestra.  There are also those funny top secret typing sounds as the text appears revealing the location.  I think all spies have accompanying theme songs – it’s one of the company perks.

I looked around the island to find a particular landmark that I seemed to have found everywhere civilization had left its mark in Japan.  My expectations of finding this iconic symbol of evolution were quite high.  However, wherever I looked – in the small resort, near the beaches, or by the harbors – this sign was nowhere to be found.  This is when I knew that this was a place pure at heart – not a typical tourist attraction that itches to weasel money.  I was a little taken back because I had seen it in so many places and so often.  Even on top of the highest mountains and on the ferries, there it would always stand to provide substance.  Now that I think about it, I really wish it played a larger part in America.  I really missed those vending machines.

~See Lemons Kayak

 

beautiful beach

beautiful beach

Bike riding in Ojika

 

 

the long and winding road..

the long and winding road..

Random Observation/Comment #73: Most people need a destination – a goal to motivate and make their efforts and rewards balance.  These people wind up trying so hard walking that they forget to stop and look around.  Our path was beautiful to begin with, but we each search for different beauties.  I went bicycle-riding in Ojika to enjoy the journey, not the destination.

 

The day was hot and humid.  I was schmoiling and exhausted from carrying around my large suitcase of clothes from the two months before the tour began.  Gross.  My chest is always the first to sweat.  This leads to a large puddle in the middle of my t-shirt as if the sun had marked me as a target.  As you can imagine, it’s extremely attractive (sarcasm).

After a two-hour ferry ride from Nagasaki, we arrived in Ojika.  This town looked like it missed the past century of evolution.  Cars were few to come by, and buildings were either wooden or colored that tan-ish generic complexion.  The locals would collect cheap goods from the market vendors daily.  Market owners and sellers looked like celebrities being flooded by reporters trying to get their attention for a controversial policy.  It was a hectic battlefield used day after day for the same routine.

Ojika is a small island West of Nagasaki that receives very few tourists because of its remote location and tendency to attract typhoons.  Intrepid trips to this paradise had been canceled multiple times in the past, making this even Yuka’s (our tour guide) first time visiting.  Our hotel looked to be the only hotel in the area.  Running at 3 stories high, the hotel was probably one of the tallest buildings in the village.  Other houses further into the center of the more populated areas looked like they came straight from Memoirs of a Geisha.  The narrow, cobble-stone roads and small paths between residential houses made me feel as if I had traveled back in time.  There was even that generic Japanese guy sitting on a low stool wearing a v-neck white t-shirt and shower slippers.

With an afternoon to spare, everyone rented bicycles and explored the natural miracles.  The bike ride was relaxing.  I wasn’t trying to go anywhere and it was no race to get there.  We pedaled in the general direction of a few temples and landmarks on the island, but it was just so “suzushi” with the wind evaporating the heat.  Once we rode into the thick of the paths, closer to the edges of the mountain, I began stopping every few minutes to take pictures of my surroundings.  I’m used to seeing the wheat and corn fields in Pennsylvania, but most of these open spaces were covered with rice patties.  I saw a few old ladies working the field with those typical straw cone-shaped hats, tending the fields and waving as we rode by.  Their smiles were not the prettiest, but they were quite sincere.

One of our first stops was this rocky sea shore that looked like slices of black rock and smelled of sulfur.  This would be a very dangerous beach, but a perfect place to unroll a picnic blanket and watch the sunrise.  I didn’t have the privilege of watching the sunrise or sunset here because of our tight schedule, but I imagine it would be unforgettable.  There was a rock that erodes about 5 cm each year and forms what looks like a dragon’s eye.

The uphill pedaling left me exhausted and sweaty, while the downhill joyride was always interrupted by some dragonfly hitting my face.  I wouldn’t exactly pay for this rollercoaster, but the surroundings were distracting enough to make up for it.  Be sure to stop on the bridge and look at the cows grazing in the distance.  They’re so tiny – I could hold them in my hand and put them in my pocket.  The atmosphere there was perfect and I will never forget it.  Even as I write this, I can close my eyes and recreate the loud insect shrills accompanying the consistent complaints from RJ.  C’mon, man.  Benkyo! Benkyo! Benkyo (Golden Boy reference – look it up, dummy (Sea World 2021 reference)).  I will miss this place.

~See Lemons Cycle

 

beautiful view from the island

beautiful view from the island

Sing it loud and sing it clear

 

 

I think that was a Weezer song...

I think that was a Weezer song...

Random Observation/Comment #72: I thought I heard an angel sing.  This voice was so energetic and moving that it drew a music video in my mind.  It opened parts of my imagination that I didn’t know existed.  Oh wait, that was me ^^ (I’ll wait for you to finish throwing up in your mouth).  Just kidding, those notes belonged to Yuka.

 

If you go to Japan, you must sing karaoke.  If you’re an American guy that is so self-conscious of his voice that he won’t even try to sing one of his favorite songs that he sings every night in the shower, then please drink up and rock band that shyt or else you’re not leaving the room.  Embarrassment is not only a part of the experience, but also an essential key to the night’s entertainment (for your own and others).  Don’t worry – everyone else is doing the same thing, so just having a good time. 

Besides, the more you squeak off pitch, the more people respect you for taking a chance and letting all these notions of being all serious subside (Why So Serious?).  In fact, you’re just releasing the stress and taking that stick out of you’re a$$.  On a daily basis, most Japanese people put up this much-practiced grin and routine bow of respectfulness to the extent that they would go crazy if they didn’t let loose once a week and drink until 8AM while sleeping on the street next to his own heap of vomit like a hobo (I guess you don’t have to take it to extremes).

This philosophy involves the idea of transitioning between the masks you wear in every situation.  It seems like the more you balance your time between business-Clemens, family-Clemens, friends-Clemens, school-Clemens, drunk-Clemens, and online-Clemens, the less you become attached to a boring-Clemens.  I’ve often supported the idea of consistency of self, and nothing I’ve said about balancing time between different masks should refute this.  Every self mentioned is not a completely different person, but the levels in this personality equalizer are adjusted to fit the situation. 

Picture a 5-band equalizer with every band representing a range in a set of traits.  The extremities of these traits are not the extremes available in the whole world, but rather the level of extremity expected from Clemens.  So, for example, if the treble-band represents playfulness, the maximum and minimum levels would lie in drunk-Clemens and business-Clemens, respectfully.  By moving around this equalizer and setting it to the right level of each characteristic for the particular genre of music, you hear the best sound mixture and bob your head to the enhanced rhythm.  I once saw this as a level of schizophrenia, but I see that anyone who doesn’t manage an equalizer of personalities is trying to perfect his image too much.  How well rounded can someone be?  It’s a level of moderation and control for every impulse and reaction that makes this person unique.

As with every fun activity, you lose yourself in the moment.  Sing it loud and sing it clear to release all the stress piled from the week before.  Drink the included open bar with most hourly rates, and leave the microphone with the aroma of beer and cocktails.  You might plan for an hour of singing, but it always ends up being four.

I don’t mean to assume all readers would like, or even warm up to, the karaoke scene.  This activity just might not be your cup of tea.  I think some people would rather sit at home and smoke a ball of crack – to each their own.

~See Lemons Cherng K

A peaceful day in Nagasaki

 

 

Long Live The Land of the Rising Sun

Long Live The Land of the Rising Sun

Random Observation/Comment #71: Wandering a random city is sometimes more fun than actually knowing where you’re going.  You did good, camera (. . )>.

 

In my vacation sleeping mode, I usually require at least 8 hours to be functional (Cooper sleeping habits averaged 4 hours a night).  Therefore, sleeping at 4AM and waking at 11AM was just at the cusp of my awake-ness threshold.  All I wanted to do was watch some Judo on the Olympics and lay on that comforter for a few more hours.  I’m not sure whether I should use “I’m on vacation” as an excuse to do whatever I want, or as a motivation to make the most out of it by waking up and doing more things.  My camera usually makes me do the latter.  Driven by this disease, I stumbled out of bed and started roaming around the city like a zombie.

There was no agenda or even a map to tell me and RJ where the main attractions were.  We basically walked following the trolley lines to reach the port area.  The harbor was filled with large private boats and also acted as a field for the park next to the museum.  I can’t even imagine how many soccer balls, Frisbees, and childhood enthusiasms are lost in those waters.  What a buzz kill.  Nice job, Billy.  Why don’t you show off your swimming skills by jumping into the water? 

The view from Glover garden gave me an approximate orientation of the city and drew so many questions about interesting building architectures.  I still didn’t figure out what that over-sized ping pong ball was doing sitting on that green thing.  From afar, it looked like a parking lot with an unnecessary aesthetic design.  We went closer and it still looked like it served no purpose.  Next to this useless monument was a little mall.  I was tempted to buy a soccer ball so I could practice juggling (urban soccer) in the last month of traveling.  Unfortunately, soccer balls average $50 there for not even a very high quality one.  The balls themselves also looked smaller and were made out of a weird material (Dayum, everything in Japan is smaller).

The mall reminded me of every single Long Island mall I’ve been to.  It was the same design and had the same look and feel.  The only difference was the bystanders and eye candy.  Like in all good malls, there was an entire floor devoted to arcades, casinos, and those arm catching games (otherwise known as, “complete rip-offs”).  RJ was oddly hooked on wasting money on these machines.  It was as if spending more money would probabilistically help his chances of obtaining the object (yes you’re increasing the number of chances you get, but it doesn’t increase two fold.  It’s not like the machine starts to feel bad for you and grab a little harder.). 

There was a constant switch between two-steps-forward-and-one-step-back and one-step-forward-and-two-steps-back, which means that on average, he went nowhere (“Where you goin’? Nowhere.”).  I gave him a blank stare as he continuously put more money into that machine.  I wonder how many meals I could have weaseled if I had just taken his offer and played a few games with his money?  I feel like I could have completely taken advantage of a naïve teenager.  Luckily for him, my conscience suggested this far-fetched idea of cost benefit analysis.  Even if you just take money over time as a simple rule (ie. how much money have I spent this hour? And, how much usefulness was it compared to the last hour?), the arm game just doesn’t make any sense.

Although, if I didn’t see RJ toss away at least $100 the entire trip on these games, I wouldn’t have been able to see the little tricks they use for every machine to insure that they wouldn’t lose too much money, while still keeping it seem like you’re going somewhere.  The normal boring arm catchers in America have a weaker grasp and thick glass to augment the depth perception.  Although this trick is also used in Japan, the creativity of the game is much more impressive.  For example, there are many games where the arm does not grab, but instead, it is used to kick a ring sideways off a little hook.  Or, you have to arrange a little stick so that it enters right in the middle of an opening.  Sometimes the materials they use to wrap the edges of a toy are very frictional, and you just see the arm’s strength cower in defeat. 

There are so many traps that made me think, “Wow, maybe I can get that.”  Of course, my frugal tendencies just made me hover around and watch some other sucker try it.  After seeing someone throw away so much money in such a short period of time, I concluded that this prize grabbing game is more addictive than the slot and pachinko machines.  The taunting little doll, action figure, or candy is just staring at you and screeching, “Please save me from this glass box! Look at me, so cute and fluffy.  I’m so close to escaping, you just need to give me a small push.  Save me and I’ll always be yours.  I’ll do anything you want.  I have a pleasure mode.”  It’s okay, man.  The first step is admitting that you have a problem.

~See Lemons Stay Away From Dolls

 

Dejima harbor - lookie the ping pong ball

Dejima harbor - lookie the ping pong ball

The Night Sky – Oh! How I’ve missed the stars

 

 

oh the curses of the world. beautiful.

oh the curses of the world. beautiful.

 

 

Random Observation/Comment #70: The city’s (of course, there is only one “the city”) light pollution had made my star gazing hobbies impossible to fulfill.  Osaka had a similar problem, but Nagasaki on top of a large mountain, was a little more forgiving.  Not a cloud in the sky – not a worry in the world.  I loved every second.  I only wish I had someone to hold from behind and kiss to share this perfect moment.

I remember a time when I used to know at least 20 constellations and each of their meanings.  Of course, this useless knowledge (well maybe useless except for impressing the opposite sex) was core dumped a long time ago to make room for useful stuff like, electrohydrodynamics, Navier-Stokes Equations, and Poisson distributions.  Fantastic.  My brain needs to learn to keep the good stuff.

The tram ride up to the mountain kept me mesmerized.  I looked down and saw Nagasaki as a giant creature.  It almost looked like an amoeba covered with lights devouring the landscape.  The small flickers from the trolleys and cars throughout the city kept catching my glance.  For some reason, every time I’m in these situations, I see myself looking from the top of the tower instead of seeing it through my own eyes.  Do you remember the camera pan in Titanic when Rose spreads her arms and stands at the front of the boat?  The camera circles around the entire boat while showing the 360-degree view of the world around her.  This was how I saw myself – completely free with an unreal view before my eyes. 

Screw taking pictures that probably won’t come out nice.  I walked around the roof of that building and just took my mental snapshots of the twinkles above and the twinkles below.  I thought a lot about a lot of things, as usual.  I don’t even know why I became so philosophical and psychological – I wasn’t even drinking.  My life felt so insignificant.  I couldn’t even grasp the simple concepts of time and space.  How far away was that light shining in the valley below? How far away is that burning gaseous sun in the dark night?  Just trying to picture a light-year given my current references is impossible. Trying to picture a nanometer blows my mind even more. 

As I thought about things that I normally didn’t give much second thought to, my eyes opened to an unexplainable connection.  Here I am.  Here’s the entire universe with its unbounded complexities.  I am a hiccup in time and a crumb in space.  If I stopped thinking here, I would have eventually become depressed.  Fortunately, I looked at the world that I can realistically observe.  What does it matter if I’m nothing to the universe?  I am something to those around me.  With that thought, I smiled at the sight before me.  I can’t wait to share.

After taking my hundreds of pictures on the mountain, the group went back to grab some “Chinese food” for dinner (it wasn’t Chinese at all).  I think they tried to make gawn chow ngow haw with ramen…  I don’t know what they were thinking.  The only thing that dinner did was made me miss my Mom’s home cooking (and provide beer).

After dinner, part of the group went to sing some karaoke.  We planned to stay for an hour but wound up staying 4 hours instead (this often happens).  Singing “Imagine” got it out of my system.  Mad K skills, son (It’s scary that I actually sometimes talk like that.  Damn you, James).

 

~See Lemons Admire the Night Sky

 

an ameoba devouring the land

an ameoba devouring the land

I’m turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese – my hair says so.

 

 

She was perty.

She was perty.

Random Observation/Comment #69: Japanese people pride themselves in having crazy hair.  They always have long hair in the back so they can use a million hair products to make it stick up like anime characters.  You may try to have blonde hair, but the bleach will only make it a weird brown.  You’re not from California – deal with it.

 

After the a-bomb museum, half of the tour group went to Glover Garden to look at some old western-style houses on top of a small hill.  The garden didn’t have the beautiful blooming flowers I expected, but the overall design was incredible.  The city fit into the palm of my hand on that house’s porch.  Some people with money to waste on house decorations would buy a fountain for the front yard.  This house had a private pond that sat higher than the bridges.

Needless to say, the houses were quite nice.  I could definitely retire here with the beautiful view overlooking the harbor and the city. The houses had all been converted to hold plastic food and model ships instead of furniture and family portraits.  It was a tourist attraction and, of course, a great dating scene. 

Returning from the garden, RJ and I went to get crazy Japanese haircuts because I was looking like a bum, and RJ just wanted Japanese hair.  I really liked my hair in the front because I could do the swoosh hair pullback and pretend to be cool (the key word is pretend).  It reminded me of that high school look I had with the typical Asian split in the middle with lobster claws that clamped nicely on either side of my cheeks.  Back in the day, my hair was just too modern for its times.

Anyway, given the Japanese fluency of me and RJ combined, we would have probably left the salon with our heads shaved.  Fortunately, Yuka helped us translate.  It led to one of my favorite haircuts of all times.  Although, the normal haircut phases of looking terrible the first two weeks and then improving significantly for one week before the next haircut cycle begins did not apply for this cut.  It looked good for the first two weeks and then I already felt my hair needed a minor trim to add the Japanese-style back to it.

RJ’s hair became huge.  It looked like he was wearing a helmet.  My hair was long in the back, but short on one side with bangs and a weird spiking centroid.  It felt like the entire haircut was shifted 30 degrees to the right so the center is along the right-side parting line.  The bangs were also cut for the hair to droop over my forehead and a little over my eyes.  Overall, I was more than satisfied.  We tipped generously in a place that usually doesn’t accept tips.  In return, the hair stylists gave us an entire box of shampoo and conditioner samples. 

Tipping has been embedded into my common courtesy, but a cheaper way of living without tipping is easily adaptable.  Plus, it’s so much nicer when the service actually takes it as a huge compliment instead of a mandatory addition.  You really don’t need to bow that low.  I bowed to meet their humbleness, but they bowed lower to form some odd war of politeness.  I let him win.

~See Lemons enjoy his haircut

 

A view from the house. Screw Fountains.

A view from the house. Screw Fountains.

Nagasaki Memorial: “My G-d. What have we done?”

1000 cranes for a wish come true 

 

1000 cranes for a wish come true

Random Observation/Comment #68: I’ve never been given such a dirty look from an old man in my life.  He stared me down as if I were the one who pressed the button or even the one who made the decision.  A dark cloud hovered above me the entire day, and my shoulders slumped with my hands dug deep into my jeans pockets.  I shuffled around and tried to avoid eye contact; hiding in shame for a past I had no control of, and completely in disgrace to be descendents of such a blood-soaked history.

August 9, 1945 at 11:03AM the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki in Japan.  I stood there a little more than half a century later to hear the leaves rustle and tears roll down cheeks in the full-minute of silence.  In the back of my mind throughout the entire day, the song “Imagine” by John Lennon was set on repeat.  Each word stuck in my mind and left my eyes stinging. 

Why?  I’ve studied my WWII history and know all the facts behind the issue, but still – Why?  How did we wind up in the situation to begin with?  Why must these conflicts be settled with the lives of the nations’ citizens and require the sacrifice of someone’s sons?  Does a person’s life pass as nothing more than a statistic to the government?  Is it okay if you’re removing the entire community from the face of the Earth in a blink of an eye?  There’s no one suffering except those unlucky enough to live with the disfigurements from the impact and radiation.

The walk through the museum was slow and emotionally difficult.  Every image seared into my eyes and made my stomach churn.  I jumped from perspective to perspective feeling a flood of emotions all at once.  How did this child’s life change with half his skin grafted to hide the burns?  What did his parents think (if they were still alive)? How was the photographer’s view of the world altered with every picture documented even deeper within his heart?  How is it affecting our lives today – is this knowledge of our past going to prevent such travesties in the future?  Why else would we study history if not to benefit from the lessons we gather from our past? 

I looked through all the recovered remains in the museum; they were completely melted and barely recognizable.  There were bottles fused together by the intense heat and recovered roof tiles with noticeable erosion from the shockwave.   I saw children walking through the museum’s passages trying to understand the significance of the event, but completely unable to fully grasp the concept of life-and-death, freedom-and-oppression, and love-and-hate.  High schoolers would take pictures in front of statues smiling with peace symbols posing for the camera.  Would you smile in front of a grave?  Sometimes a smile doesn’t capture the real emotions of the moment.  It’s a repeated camera pose that comes out generically beautiful by your own standards.  It wasn’t a day for smiling.  Even my generic pose that looks like I photoshopped the background doesn’t include a smile.  I gave my pondering face.

Since this day was a memorial, tourists and locals alike filled the streets.  Large groups gathered with the television stations and watched the ceremonies to commemorate the passed.  I stood there dazed with a level of sorrow, yet a glimmer of gratefulness for being alive and healthy.  Hopefully we can all be hippies and just hold hands in this world.  Live long and prosper (not in a factious way).  There was a large tower with a burning torch at the top representing something to do with world peace.  People were asked to make origami cranes and tape them onto the wall of the tower.  I wrote on the wing of the crane I made, “Imagine all the people, living life in peace. ~John Lennon.”

 There is a saying in Japanese history that if you make a thousand cranes, your wish will come true.  Throughout the museum were these chains of different colored cranes.  Schools have done art projects completely made of cranes to represent peace, flowers, or nature.  It was absolutely beautiful and took so much devotion. 

I left my crane and a little butterfly on the memorial site sending my wishes for peace.  Our world, sadly, does not support peace.  We’ll live on continuing this blind hatred until a larger threat requires the unity of all humanity (like in Independence Day).  Well, maybe if there’s no country, no nations, no boundaries, and no religion we’ll have a better chance.  I don’t ask for a Utopia – just a world without war – maybe to some people, they’re the same thing.  Hey, future generation: Don’t f@%# it up.

~See Lemons Imagine

 

imagine..

imagine..

Beppu: Buried alive in Takegawara Spa

 

bury me, bury me...

bury me, bury me...

 

Random Observation/Comment #67: Good Idea/Bad Idea.  Good Idea: Professionals preparing you for a sand bath.  Bad Idea: Anyone-else preparing you for a sand bath.  So that’s why you don’t try it at beaches.  Where’s my air hole?

Because pictures were forbidden in the spa area, I couldn’t actually snap color photos of how this sand bath deal is setup, but the black-white postcard shown above is actually a very good representation.  Because of this whole buried in sand option, Takegawara spa in Beppu turned out to be one of the cheapest and coolest spa experiences I had in Japan.

To get this detail out of the way, I need to mention that the old ladies preparing the sand baths are the fittest ladies in the town.  They have to shovel that sand non-stop.  They’re constantly digging graves and burying living people in a sauna (actually, that sounds like a pretty cool job description).  Beware of these ladies while you’re changing because they will just barge into all of the changing rooms unannounced visits from them in the male and female changing rooms.  They will also annoyingly leave doors wide open for all to ogle (and laugh in some cases).  I guess they’ve seen enough to just not be phased.

So how does this thing work?  First of all, you’re wearing a full yukata (thin, cloth bath robe) when they bury you.  If this was not available, I would have gotten sand in places that sand does not belong – and well, f*@# that.  After that, it’s basically all you would expect from being buried in sand.  The sand is black and very hot.  You lay down and the old lady just starts pouring it on.  I know what you’re thinking – and don’t worry.  The professionals will not give you a giant rack and a large package (unless you ask for one.  Well, I didn’t ask, but I’m sure they need a little bit of fun.).

The buried-alive-with-an-air-hole sensation is freakin’ awesome.  Imagine the best hug you’ve ever gotten in the whole wide world lasting for 10 minutes.  Or, imagine the feeling you get when you bundle up in warm blankets in a cold night, except you’re perfectly tucked in by your Mommy (I love it when you push the blanket under my arms, legs, and feet, as if I’m a mummy).

Although it was a lot of fun and really relaxing, washing the sand off was a pain in the ass.  It actually was such a pain in the ass that I would not recommend going in the sand bath if you don’t like washing sand out of your long hair.  I had some bangs and I wound up standing there for 20 minutes washing like it was my job.

~See Lemons Exfoliate His Skin

 

sand bath details

sand bath details

Matsuyama Onsen: Bring me back to Spa World

group photo in yukatasgroup photo in yukatas

Random Observation/Comment #66: The larger selection and waterfall massages at Spa World clouded the fact that everything was artificial. Can you feel the difference? Nothing matters when I put that cloth over my eyes and breathe the hot steam clearly through my nose. I could feel every section of my lungs filling with the essentials of life. Dai ski dai yo.

The onsen we went to was the most famous one in Matsuyama (the name escapes me at the moment). It’s so famous that it has its own town of souvenirs and traditional sweets surrounding the highly praised pool of water. They are very proud that the emperor visited this onsen 4 times. You could tell because they offer a tour as a historical overview of where the emperor took his royal dump, and where his holy-ness soaked his nude body (which would apparently blind all who looked at him – no, just kidding I made that up).

I found this tourist attraction onsen overpriced with large groups. Normally you would fit 3 people into a private room (which costs the most money), but since we were a bunch of gai-jin tourists, we fit eight and sat together in a squished circle. The water itself was fine, but I wound up spending more time taking a shower than actually staying in the steaming bath. I found it amusing that when Sebastian and I entered the bath, the Japanese people scattered. It reminded me of that high school science trick where you put detergent on your fingertip and stick it into the middle of a bowl of water sprinkled with pepper. Try it and you’ll know what I mean.

For many of the people on the tour, this was their first time at an onsen. Their reactions were positive, but every single one of them was blushing like peaches. Most of them only stayed in the hot baths for 10 minutes and spend the rest of the time sitting on the cool tatami mats and resting their eyes. We’re all on vacation here so there’s no need to force yourself into any uncomfortable customs. Although, I think everyone should keep an open-mind to what other cultures deem a cleansing of the spirit.

Not to mention that, if you don’t try this once, you won’t be able to experience trying to sit in such a way that everyone doesn’t get too quickly acquainted with you before you buy them a drink. Luckily, or unluckily (depending to who you talk to), the robes were not see-through.

All in all, it was a beautiful night and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Dinner was a poor excuse for Italian style, but it’s pretty difficult to mess up an omelet filled with rice and drenched with gravy. The spaghetti , on the other hand, tasted like it was cooked (processed) by the famous Chef Boyardee. There must have been some weird canned tomato paste they added for the tomato sauce. Yum.

Money on this vacation was just spent on all sorts of experiences. I’m on vacation – I can spend a little extra on a few pints of beers. And, oh boy, did I choose the right tour guide to fulfill this wish. Yuka is amazing for giving me such effortless victories in convincing her to go out for a drink. In fact, it was more like “Can we order some beer tonight?” “Can we? Why wouldn’t we? Kanpai!”

~See Lemons Feel like royalty

Yuka likes her beer

Yuka likes her beer