14 October 2014
There are so many things that are components of a country: the language, the culture, the geography, the history, the landscape, the buildings, the customs and practices, the flora and fauna, and most importantly, the people.
And I think that's one of the things I enjoy most of all, meeting people around the world and learning a little bit about their lives, about what they do and how they think and feel about the world.
There are quick, short conversations on buses, trains, in cafés, that epitomize those meaningful encounters. One being the nice young subway security officer who readily allowed us to pile our luggage on the handicapped stair elevator, since the subway station in Kyoto didn't have an elevator or escalator to the floor we needed to catch our train. Too many officials wouldn't be helpful, and we'd have to lug our bags up the flight of stairs. But this lovely young man smilingly agreed that our bags could ride the handicapped car, and he carefully sent them up the stairs to meet us at the top.
Yes, we took the subway from Kyoto to Osaka, a distance of roughly 55 km (or about 35 miles). We had three trains, with fairly easy connections, and the whole thing took maybe an hour. Some of the time was underground, but part of the time we were above ground, and our final destination was an elevated train.
The first thing that we saw outside the train station was the tsunami warning sign. Oy!
I was thrilled to see that Osaka has decorative manhole covers, and they seem to reflect the history of this city as a major seaport. We haven't found any colorful manhole covers yet, but will continue to look.
I promised links to more information about the Japanese manhole covers, and here is the best one, Drainspotting, a website by the man who has photographed many of the manhole covers and compiled a book. The other two websites contain some of his photos.
So, we're staying in a Japanese "love hotel." The official explanation is that since so many Japanese apartments are small and often crowded, or some young couples are still living with parents (or maybe middle-aged couples are caring for children as well as aging parents), the "love hotel" is a place where couples can stay for a night or two and just relax, spend time together, all that. It isn't necessarily the red light district, where we stayed in Singapore. But it definitely is geared toward happy couple time.
Our room is really a suite, with the living area downstairs and a huge bedroom upstairs. Love the king size bed! We also have a projection TV - that took us forever to figure out, since the remote and all the instructions are in Japanese. There's also a DVD player, and most strangely, a karaoke machine. With two microphones. One complete set upstairs in the bedroom. Another complete set downstairs, in the living room. This just makes the two of us laugh - can't you see some couple staying in a love hotel just to get time to serenade each other with karaoke? Because of course at home, the kids would either be on the karaoke machine all the time, or would laugh and make fun of their parents singing! As I said, the karaoke machine cracks us up - not either of our ideas of romance.
Then there's the slot machine, which we can't figure out. My personal favorite though is the massage chair, which yes, I used our first day. Ahhhhhh, so good!
And the giant bathing room - a shower with no walls, where you scrub and get clean. Then, in age old Japanese tradition but modernized, the huge tub you fill with hot hot water and soak in, with jacuzzi jets. So wonderful, and where I spent the evening of Typhoon Vongfong (who was only a little tropical storm by the time it hit Osaka).
Which brings us to today, Tuesday - still a bit grey and drizzly, with a good wild wind. Temperatures in the mid 60s F (17-18 C), which for us is chilly! We found beautiful flowers which really glowed in the sun breaks - and yes, that morning glory really is that bright a blue!
We went for breakfast at McDonald's, since we ate all our storm food during the previous day - and I had the hotcakes, which came with strawberry and chocolate icing tubes so you can decorate the pancakes! (I didn't, since a little syrup is my preference.) But I loved the idea of drawing on pancakes!
Now that the storm is gone, we can start exploring Osaka and finding all the fun and exciting things in this area. We've picked up some information, and will head to the main train station tomorrow. First, though, we'll finish researching the various festivals that are going on while we're here, and see if we can get to some of them. I think that might be what the red cart at the top of the blog was all about - or maybe the lanterns strung up under the elevated train.
So, a few more little vignettes of our travels in Japan, those brief encounters that seem to just encapsulate the cultural exchanges one experiences when travelling:
I was on the crowded bus in Kyoto, on my way to Kinkaku-ji, standing up and holding onto a pole, trying to not fall over. A father was holding his six or seven month old baby on his lap, and she was just staring at me. So of course I smiled at the baby and talked to her a little, and the father turned out to speak English very well. We chatted a bit, he said the baby liked me very much. I told him on how cute she is. He asked where I was going, all the usual, and how long we'd be in Japan. I said tomorrow we're heading to Osaka, we're going there to meet the typhoon. He just thought that was the funniest thing, and couldn't stop laughing. He kept giggling for much of the rest of our ride. (I thought it was funny, but not that funny!)
Other anecdote I keep meaning to share - when we were in Tokyo, at the main train station after buying our tickets to Kyoto, we stopped for a bit of lunch. Sitting at a large table, Richard noticed the young man opposite him had a sticker of Martin Luther King Jr on his computer. Turns out the young man has travelled extensively, and he spent two years attending university in Atlanta, Georgia. He was leaving for Benin, Africa, as a member of the Japanese equivalent of the Peace Corps, and was going to be teaching health in the schools in whatever area he was assigned. Of course, this was exciting for me, and I told him I had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia, there were two Japanese volunteers at our school, and we had a lovely long conversation. He's been studying English, but he said in Benin they speak French so he'll now have to learn that. I told his young lady friend that she needs to go visit him while he's there. It was just a nice long chat that was much more in depth than we usually have, because his English was good, and we had a subject in common.
Anyway, that's our life currently in Japan - occasional in-depth talks with people here, and dodging typhoons, and finding new places to visit.
Yes, we're still having fun!!!