Saturday, June 30, 2012

Japan - Day 10 - Osaka

     This is my big day.  We get to go to the Osaka aquarium to see the only whale shark in captivity.  I've been looking forward to this for 2 years, since I first heard about it.  Sybilla fixes us yogurt and granola for breakfast and we head off on bus 17 for Kyoto Station.  It's a little confusing there.  The previous clerk had given us tickets for Shin Osaka, not Osaka - which is close but not the same.
     We use our rail passes to ride the Express Train to Osaka, then take another train to Bentencho  (James loves the name - minus the cho it is the name of a favorite kids' cartoon he used to watch.) Then we need to buy tickets for the subway to Osakako, where the aquarium is.  James is miffed as this subway is not sub at all, but merely another above-ground train.
     Tickets for the aquarium and a ride on the world's largest ferris wheel are 26,000 each - steep, but, hey, we've travelled halfway around the world to see this, right?  First we walk through an aquarium tunnel where the fish and sharks - all small ones, surround you.  James and I are especially impressed by the hammerhead sharks, which we've never seen outside of books and movies.  The aquarium is very nice, it spirals down so first you see the animals from above, then lower and lower.  We see otters -- very playful today, penguins (soooo cute- and they looked very happy with their ice cube snow falling from above) a wide variety of seals and sea lions and 4 pretty dolphins that seemed pretty confined to me.
     Then we see the big show tank - truly marvelous - sharks, huge rays, fish swirling in their ever changing parabolic patterns.  I sit and watch them, mesmerized, for a long time. If this is the tank for these fish, I think, what must the whale shark tank be like?  We follow the signs, and - BOOM - we are at the entrance again.  A guide shows me a small card that says something on the order of, "Sorry, we moved the whale shark to the something-or-other prefecture because of the water quality.  Please come back another time."  Great, I'll just zip back to Osaka in a few months.  Sigh.
     It starts to rain and becomes very misty.  We have lunch and shop around hoping it will let up but no such luck, so we go on our ferris wheel ride anyway.  We see a lot of mist.
     We do have the famous Osakan pancakes for lunch.  James says his is OK but my meat is very tough. Clearly, this cow never heard classical music, or had a massage in her life!
     On our way back, James spies a sign for the Osaka Pokemon center.  These are supposed to be areas for Pokemon maniacs to get together, and I think he expected them to be on every street corner.  This one is on the 13th floor of the Osaka Station Mall.  It is huge, colorful, loud and filled with Pokemon stuff for sale and teenagers battling each other on their Nintendos.  The big excitement is some new video game that won't be out in the States for months, Black & White version 2, apparently.  Large signs proclaim that these games will not work on the American DS.  Poor American Pokemon freaks will just have to wait a little longer for their fix.
    We both think it's funny that what's playing at the mall is the same song that's all the rage back home: "Call Me Maybe."  We also smile just a little at the people wearing surgical masks on the street and in the restaurants.  Some of them have to pull their masks down to insert their cigarette....
     Osaka on a Saturday night is a very crowded place.  Kyoto is better, but only just.  We are both tired when we finally get back to the B and B and decide, who needs dinner, anyway?  Tomorrow, Hiroshima.

Turn the sound down on this video at the aquarium

The Osaka aquarium

A ferry ticket was purchased with our aquarium ticket, so we go.

This would be great- IF it weren't raining and you could see anything...

The shark is a lie...

James visits Benten(cho)

There's a Pokemon Center on Floor 13?

Hell is very loud with cute yellow ears.

James likes Hell.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Japan - Day 9 - Kyoto

     Today we are off to Geek Mecca - the Manga Museum in Kyoto.  After a hearty breakfast  by Ian of (those orange) eggs and various breads, we head out to catch Bus 17 downtown.  This bus stop is really close -  just around the corner and down a few stairs.  James has worked out where to get off and takes us unerringly to the museum, where he is immediately lost to all human contact.  Shelves of manga from countries all over the world line the walls and people are spread out reading in chairs and outside in a fake grass area and against walls everywhere.
     There is original artwork all over - some things you are allowed to photograph, others not.  I go and watch the precursor to Manga, a children's picture book type show done by a professional storyteller with many games and voices expressive enough to make up for my lack of Japanese.  (I win a cheap child's ring for my answer: "Tamago"- eggs- one of the few Japanese words I know - to one of the questions.  I put it on my little finger, forget it's there, and cut my lip rubbing it a half hour later and have to staunch the flow of blood in the restroom.  Am I living or what?)
     By around 3 pm I am starving and have to drag James bodily away from the books.  Once out, he decides he's hungry too and we end up with another of those ubiquitous and inexpensive rice bowls with a little meat on top.
     There is a famous Japanese castle down the road a bit, so we go there, pay our admission, and realize that it is 4:00 and they are starting to close down.  We have a hurried self tour - more lovely gardens, a large building with a "Nightingale Floor" which squeaks musically with each step to give warning, lots of other buildings, and a nice big moat - no crocodiles though.  We are not allowed to take any photographs inside.  The cafe sells the elusive Ramune but, again, bottles must be finished and returned immediately.  It's like these things are a National Treasure, or something.
     Afterward, James realizes the Manga museum is open until 6, so he rushes us back (it's actually a warm, sunny day today) and I arrive red-faced and gasping.  I rest on the fake grass lawn, while he attempts to read the entire museum contents in the 90 minutes he has left.
     On our way back to the bus, we detour into a covered shopping area and spend a pleasant few hours shopping.  While looking for James in a geeky looking shop, I find the Holy Grail, 4 different flavors of Ramune in small plastic bottles.  He buys 3 in red, white, and blue, and indulges in the  white one- which tastes just like Juicyfruit gum. He is getting a bit more comfortable with his Japanese now, and tries to talk me into taking the bus back  while he goes on to another anime store he has been told of.  I'm no dummy though.  We have no way of contacting each other and I know, given my directional sense, I'd soon end up wandering the streets of Kyoto at night or accidentally take the bus to Okinawa.  (The bus stop where we get off is different and utterly unfamiliar, so even he admits I was right.)  He drops me off at the door - exhausted and ready for a shower (no baths here, alas) while he expends his 18 year old night owl energy wandering around town at night.
     Tomorrow we're off to Osaka.
The outside of B and B Juno in Kyoto

James is always bumping his head coming out of the Japanese rooms, and you can see why!

Figuring out how to take Bus 17 to the Manga Museum.  James is an awesome navigator!

The Center of all Geekdom.

Manga from all countries- plenty in English to enthrall James.

The pre-manga picture show- very fun

James and I by the museum Phoenix

Umm- James- can we get lunch now- please?

More of those orange-yolked eggs at a convenience store.

At Nijo Castle in Kyoto

No photography was allowed inside, but here we see some Samurai figures from the outside.

More photos of the castle and grounds

It even has a moat!
All week long I've been standing in long lines to avoid these traditional Japanese squat toilets.  You're supposed to squat or kneel facing forward.  At the restaurant, this is the only game in town and, besides, I've seen old women in full skirts use them- how hard can it be?  (Guess who gets to spend the rest of the day with a sweater tied around her waist...)

Back to the Manga museum.

Link to: B&B Juno

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Japan - Day 8

     Last night, after our scary gourmet dinner at the Ryokan, I begged James to let us chicken out and get the Western Style breakfast.  I'm so glad we did.  Breakfast was great with fresh fruit and melt-in-your-mouth croissants.  The yolks of the eggs here are bright orange.  (Keiko told us that eggs are more desirable the oranger they are.)  Our chickens that free-range with plenty of green grass lay eggs with bright yellow yolks tending toward orange, but this color is unnatural.  Purina, of course, puts marigold in their layer mix so that confined chickens will lay eggs with bright yellow yolks.  The Japanese have to be putting something in the feed to get this color.  Grated carrots, perhaps?
     I am told that the Kyoto vegetables are very different  and carrots are very large and blood red.  I am overcome with curiosity, but think it fairly unlikely that I will run into a chicken farmer who will tell me.  An internet search leads to speculation that orange peels or safflowers are the source.  Where is Sherlock when you need him?
     Anyway, after our spectacular breakfast, we packed up and our Ryokan proprietress called a taxi to take us to our next place - the B and B Juno.  Run by  Austrians Ian and Sybilla and named after their 9 year old daughter Juno, the place has received many good reviews.  We have a nice upstairs room with 2 futons and there is one other guest down the hall.  The price is very reasonable at 5,000 yen per night per person - or about $120 dollars a night total.
     Ian immediately sits us down with a map of Kyoto and goes over how to use the buses and where the attractions are.  This looks like a great location, there are several temples, including the famous Silver Pavilion, within walking distance.  After a rest, we walk around town, shopping for souvenirs and snacks and end up with an examination of the lovely temple grounds and shrines - very quiet, in spite of all the school kid tour groups being ushered through.
     We find a Japanese restaurant without an English menu so we point at our selections and have a couple of inexpensive bowls of rice with beef for me and shrimp for James.  James finally finds the Japanese soft drink he has been searching for - a kind of sparkling cider in glass bottles which are sealed by a marble.  You push the marble down into the bottle to open it.  Evidently, this drink (Ramune) was discussed by his Japanese teacher and also featured in some of the Manga he reads.  He is thrilled to find it, but crushed that he cannot keep the bottle, even by paying the deposit.  Bottles must be finished and returned at once for recycling.  Rats!  He is still searching for a plastic version.
Our hostess at breakfast at the Shiraume.  An English paper too!

Breakfast is really great!!

Look at that fruit cup made from an orange- and those lovely eggs!

You can buy anything in this world from a vending machine....

James' first Ramune

But they won't let us keep the bottle!

The Silver Pavillion and associated shrines and gardens.

Don't order a taco in Japan.  Taco means octopus!

James decides to try the the taco balls.

He says octopus is good as long as you can't see the suckers.