Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Trip to Japan Part II

A country road in the morning with bamboo

There was so many things going on with friends and family over the holiday weekend that I haven’t been able to update my blog with info about my journey. The good thing about it taking me so long is that my SO is now back (with the camera) and so I’ve got pictures. The bad thing is I hardly took any snapshots, as this was my third trip to Japan. Well, we’ll see what we can do.

On the second day in Japan both my SO and I woke up at 3:00 AM because of the time difference with Oregon. After lying around for over an hour we decided to get up and go for a walk. We took the short stroll to 7-ll, and my SO (who has driven in Japan) commented how narrow the Japanese roads are, obviously she’s be in the states awhile now.

We stepped into the brightly lit convenience store and the smell of cooking oden permeated air. We strolled around the low, well-organized aisles and then I immediately went to the comic section. I haven’t learned Japanese so I couldn’t read any of it but my love of comics propelled me give them a look-see. They had all the regular stuff: boy’s comics, girl’s comics, and various adult comics. The first thing I grabbed was a men’s weekly manga. I could tell it was a man’s comic because of the bathing suited babe on the cover with gi-normous fake boobs which looked even stranger on a Japanese woman. Sure enough, when I opened the comic mag to a random page, my eyes where treated to an expressive girl-on-girl finger-banging scene. For a few seconds I felt like 12-year-old kid getting away with sneaking a peek at the The Joy Lesbian Sex. Of course I wasn’t getting away with anything, so I quickly put that manga down and looked at what else they had.

One of the things that’s nice about the manga stands in Japan is that they also have thick digests that collect older comics. Every time I’ve gone to Japan there never fails to be a digest of Black Jack on the shelf. This time there was a collection of a title called Berserk. I had ignored it the states because it looked like some lame video game thing, but as I flipped through the pages I found the art and the pseudo medieval setting compelling. I realized that this title is horror fantasy, my kinda stuff. I filed it away in my memory.

My SO and I explored the rest of the store marveling at the, strange candy (like apple kit kat), exotic sandwiches, and ice coffees. The Starbucks brand was available, but what was really interesting was that they had a Japanese copycat brand ingeniously labeled Mt. Rainier. The logo looked akin to the Starbuck’s logo but with a picture of Mt. Rainier instead of the mermaid. We bought a few goodies such as chocolate covered mango bits and left.

We walked on down the road and stopped off at another convenience store called Family Mart. I picked up some green tea and drank it as we strolled through my through wife’s old stopping grounds including her old grade school. Although I’ve been here before I was still amazed at the surprising balance of suburbia and farmland that we passed on the way back to in-laws house. No ground is left unutilized.

Before we went back, we made a quick stop by the graveyard where my SO’s grandparents are buried. We performed the necessary cleaning rituals before prayers. Like a good omen, the sun popped over the trees just as my wife began to her silent prayer. It was a gorgeous morning in the cemetery but my SO told me its taboo to take pictures there so I didn’t take any.

After a nice breakfast of fish, vegetables and miso soup, My SO and I headed into town around Omiya Station for shopping and a haircut. Our first bit of business was to stop by Mr. Donut, as my SO really wanted me to compare the taste to an American donut. Needless to say it tasted like bread and wasn’t sweet at all. No wonder the Japanese students pack on the pounds when they come to the states. They didn’t’ have any decaf coffee either and were completely stunned when we asked for it.

We went to many stores including Loft, Book Off (used books, CD, and DVDs) where I picked up a Record of Lodoss War music CD, and a tiny toy store the size of a walk-in closet. We purchased all manner of items, but I was distressed at the amount of X-mas decorations and items for sale. I know the Japanese get into the commercial side of the holiday but to see it so pervasive was startling. My wife was even a little taken aback. Some of the holiday presents we’d been sending to the relatives that last few years didn’t seem so special anymore.

Eventually, we went and got haircuts at a local salon my SO likes. I appreciate Asian hair stylists, as they understand how to cut my very straight (although very soft) hair, so I had no problem going. I’ve had endless bad haircuts my whole life until I went to a Japanese salon because white folks usually screw it up pretty bad. Most Caucasians have some wave or curl so a mediocre stylist can get away with doing an OK job but my hair doesn’t allow for any mistakes. The Japanese also have many techniques for thinning out hair so I can wear it a little longer and still feel cool (temperature wise).

I do have to mention a hair fad that just mystified me. Right now a spiky, feathered, rat’s nest with a mullet is fashionable. Usually Japanese folks have a very nice sense of style even if it’s different than the US, but his time? Sorry Japan. This trend is totally thumbs down. It looks really bad especially when combined with that fakey brown hair. A Mohawk with a nose ring would look more chic.

Omiya Station not during rush hour

Eventually, we were off on a semi-crowded train to Akabane to meet our familial responsibilities. After that we headed off to Akihabara, the electric town. I had been to Akihabara 2 years ago and went around to the electronic shops. This time I was having none of that and instead looked around the geeky, Otaku toyshops instead. You see I was searching for collectables from Fist of the North star, GeGeGe no Kitaro, and Daimajin. I struck out with Daimajin but I managed to find a few, old, Gashapon pieces from Fist of the Northstar to help round out my meager collection. One store also had a nice full collection of GeGeGe no Kitaro Gashapon that I picked up. Most of the various toyshops were crammed with Gundam figures but luckily I’m not into that franchise otherwise I would have busted our budget right there.

One of the many toy stores, this one had a life-sized Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star although he's not life proportioned.

By the time we were finally ready to leave we felt a little hungry so we swung by a sushi shop for a snack. The fresh fish melted in our mouths. After that, we bid Akihabara’s bright lights goodbye and headed back to back to Omiya Station and had the distinct pleasure riding the train during rush hour. It got a little hot and heavy on the train, meaning that the bags were heavy and at the mass of bodies had me overheating.

Akihabara at night

It was a busy day and I was so tired and jetlagged that I sleepwalked through the rest of the evening including dinner.


Don Snabulus said...

Sounds like Mr. Donut wasn't far from Mr. Bagel.

I remember the first time I had fish for breakfast in Japan. It was very good, but the pre-announcement had me a bit worried.

I found my jet lag coming back home was worse than my jet lag going to Japan. Maybe it was just the excitement about travelling though.

ladybug said...

Love the "Mt Rainier" logo, makes me laugh! Next we'll have that 70's beer commercial...RRRRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRBBBBBBBBBEEEEEEERRRRR (with the guy on the motorcycle w/the view of MT. Rainier on the back.

I can't say as I'd enjoy shopping as much as you do though, it'd probably drive me mad...although Beanica, Fester and Tim would probably LOVE it!

Swinebread said...

snab - haha,

For me their wasn't any announcement just here you go. Although my wife did tell me that Japanese folks don't often eat cereal so I new something was up.

That was true in past trips but this time it was bad.

LB - you are the only one (he he)

as for shopping remembet that this happening in foreign coutnry so even small things can be interesting.

Dean Wormer said...

You didn't happen to catch the title of that Manga title you saw on the first day did you?

I'd like to check it out myself... for "research" purposes only.


Swinebread said...

No, it was one of many stories in a weekly mag, but it's still new so I'm sure I could find it at Uwajimaya or you... if you really want it.

Pandabonium said...

Great pics and impressions. Always interesting to read reactions to a foreign culutre (even though it isn't totally new to you).

Pandabonium said...

By the way, regarding the xmas stuff in stores, when I moved here is was a rude shock to me that I had not escaped the junk xmas music in stores. I don't HATE xmas music, I enjoyed playing it in a brass quartet for many years, but I do hate the garbage they play over and over and over and over AND *&%^$#% OVER again in malls and stores and everywhere! ARRRRG. It made me hide at the season in the US. So when I got to a relatively rural part of Japan I was in SHOCK when I discovered they play the same crap in stores here - where there are almost NO xians. (I've probably still hate it even if I were an xian.)

The Moody Minstrel said...

Christmas lights and decorations have also become far more prevalent and widespread than they were when I first came here. Ten years ago we were probably the only house within a five-kilometer radius that had any Christmas lights, and we only put them up around one door! Now within a kilometer you can find a number of houses that are glitzed out with lights and Xmas decorations to the point of absurdity.

Yes, commercial Christmas is a mainstay here...except that in Japan it has far more sexual overtones.

Swinebread said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Swinebread said...

panda - you know what? I found the X-mas stuff the most annoying in Loft... and they were playing loud X-mas elevator music. So you're totally right about that

moody - x-mas is a little like valentine's day, kinda creepy... but don't worry I won't tell the fundies