vrijdag 17 december 2010

A Kiwi welcome


11 short hours from Japan was our next destination. We flew into Auckland at 5:30 in the morning, after no sleep in the plane and a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc for breakfast (it was dinnertime for us, ahem). After a brief customs search of our bags (Heather had leaves in books, most of which ended up in the trash but then we wouldn’t want to be the cause of some bio outbreak really... There are some limits to art), we were off! A shuttle bus dropped us at the door of our hostel, which had provided us with the door code so we could chill out in the common room (because backpackers are NOT up at 6:30.. Although some are at 7:30, we found out. Strange people). We ended up pulling an all-nighter, and then an all-dayer, with a walk up to the local main street for coffee (which was soooooo good- they know how to make coffee here), a trip to the supermarket (where we asserted we could READ THE PACKAGING! Quite a welcome advantage after a month of gambling on products...), and renting a camper. We also met an English guy who took us up to a volcano summit close-by, where we could see absolutely nothing due to the weather (although the view is supposed to be fantastic) and then a quick drive round the center of Auckland, which was quite quaint compared to the metropoles we were used to. Another viewing point at the harbor provided us with more nothingness- oh well, more to see when we go in tomorrow. We finally passed out at 9pm, and had a good lie in today. Thinking it was dry, we went back up to the volcano and got completely soaked as it started to piss down again halfway up... It’s just not meant to be. But we are not complaining- we’re wearing sandals and no jackets, so we are HAPPY!!!
We have until Monday here in Auckland and then we pick up our camper. It’ll be great to have our own mode of transport!

New Zealand so far is great. It’s relaxed, it’s pretty, it’s friendly- Daniel felt like he had come home as it reminds him so much of Australia. Heather thinks she’ll feel like it’s home after not too long. We’re good :)

Last blog from Japan

As the train took us into Osaka, we realized we were entering a city that could only be rivaled by the likes of Tokyo. Seemingly endless grey blocks of flats, electricity wires looping in and out of streets and buildings, numbers of commuters rising with every stop closer to Osaka Station. Even though Nara had been relatively large -bigger than what we had anticipated- nothing compares to a Japanese big city. Once we ventured into Osaka Station, we promptly got completely lost (they’re renovating, and so it was like walking through Amsterdam Central but then x100 and in Japanese) and had to ask directions for the exit (which in any other country might have inspired a fit of laughter, but not in Japan- they take everyone seriously and no questions are stupid questions).
It was pissing rain, so we decided to spend our day at Osaka’s best indoor sight, the aquarium. Not just any aquarium- by true Asian standards, it involved things that had never been done before, in this case housing not one but TWO whale sharks and a great white. Worth the visit, obviously. So we and the rest of Osaka’s temporary residents (inculding lots of small children whose voices are greatly amplified by glass just in case you were wondering) spent a day admiring the latter, and everything else you can find in any ocean anywhere on Earth (it was big). We were impressed, but also decided we like aquariums as much as we like zoos- not much. The animals looked like they could use a lot more room. We also went to Den Den Town, Osaka’s manga district, where we fought the crowds of businessmen and Japan’s geeks stocking up on manga literature and figurines (it is serious besiness! So much so we wondered how some of these guys’ houses must have looked). 8-story buildings, and not just one but ten in a row, all selling books, dvds (even months in advance), magazines, action figures, do-it-yourself figurines of any and many sorts.... However, all literature is sealed and described in Japanese, so we ended up buying a souvernier manga magazine which was VERY explicit and VERY illegal in the Western world (although not in Japan, suprisingly), as it contained animal sex and even a story that involved children. Needless to say, we donated it to the nearest garbage can the next day... Oops. Fortunately Daniel’s other souvenier, a figurine of a maid (hot stuff in Manga world), was more than enough to take home.
We also spent a day wandering Osaka’s two hip-n-happening districts, America-mura and Dotombashi. The outfits got weirder and weirder, but were totally fashion-savvy at the same time. If either of us were to dress like that we would look like complete idoits, but the Japanese somehow make it work. Daniel shot 10 rolls of film taking portraits of Osaka’s young and fabulous, so we have lots to look forward to when we get home!

Ah, Japan. You were over before we knew it.

It was wonderful knowing you. We’ll be back.

zondag 12 december 2010

Hiroshima, Kyoto and Nara (or, Shrines, Temples and the Great Buddha's Nostril)

We left Hiroshima, sad to leave it behind us. It is such a beautiful, laid-back, even spacious city (by Japanese means). It is a special place- though the A-bomb is still a healing wound, the city and its people have accepted it as history and have built a vibrant, friendly, tolerant and peaceful community from its ashes. An inspiring place, and a lovely hostel! Daniel was particularly popular after he spent an evening cheffing it up in the kitchen introducing the entire staff to pannekoeken. The way to the Japanese heart is obviously through the stomach :)

Next stop was Kyoto. We arrived in on our anniversary, so we decided to treat ourselves to a nice dinner out, which was lovely- we ended up in a restaurant where no one spoke much English, and the menu was illegibale apart from a few pictures. We managed to order some GREAT food, too much sake (there doesn't seem to be a language problem there) and some deep fried spaghetti, which made the experience more than complete. We went for one more drink at our hostel bar, which turned in to more once we got chatting to the Aussie barflies, and before I knew it I heard Daniel rounding up the troops for karaoke accross the room... Needless to say, it was a night to not remember :) We took the next day off, having determined the hangover of the century.

We did actually see some of Kyoto, too. One of Japan's major cities, it is seen as the cultural heart of Japan- and with seventeen World Heritage sites, who could argue. We managed about half- after 2 1/2 weeks of temples, shrines and castles, we were kinda shrined-out. They're all very beautiful, and very special, but there is such a thing as overkill... Suffice it to say that the International Manga Museum was a welcome change. We also spent a day wandering the streets of Nishijin, Kyoto's textile district. The highlight was definately the Textile Museum, where we were able to see various traditional Japanese artists and craftsmen working their magic- Daniel discovered his inner textilite, and Heather was reminded of why it was she wanted to specialize in textiles in the first place. Needless to say, it was an inspiring visit! Heather also found her new favorite textile company, based in Kyoto... and both of us have been back in the sketchbooks ever since. Some things were just meant to happen.

From Kyoto we headed out to Nara, Japan's first capital city. It's a small town, but it too boasts quality tourism- seven World Heritage sites, all of which fall under the category castle, temple or shrine. Daniel and I were ecstatic, naturally. We did see a few, one of which was really impressive- a massive temple (the largest wooden structure in the world) housing a 15 meter Buddha. Behind the statue one of the temple's pillars had a hole carved through it. The hole has the exact same dimensions as the Great Buddha's nostril, and if you can squeeze through then you will be ensured of elightenment. Thanks but no thanks, we already took a walk in a bodhisattva's womb in Kyoto. We also visited a 4 story arcade, a pachinko arcade, and we spent an afternoon watching tourists feed the "wild" deer at Nara Park, which was HILARIOUS. Last night we visited the public baths and soaked in boiling hot water with the geriatric population of Nara. This evening we had the most wonderful meal, and it was dirt cheap. We're happy campers.

Though many things, or really most things, go over our heads here, we like to think we have grown accustomed to the way of the Japanese. We sometimes even entertain the thought that we blend in rather well, that we are tourists going completely unnoticed (although the Japanese themselves might beg to differ- Daniel was quite the entertainment when he stuffed his hamburger with fries the other day). We had a complete conversation in Japanese the other night at the cash register of the 7 eleven- although it comprised mainly of 'hello', 'please', lots of 'thank you' s and several 'sayonara' s, all words were issued FLAWLESSLY and were reciprocated by the beaming cashier. It's really a shame we're almost leaving, as we seem to have gotten over the initial gawking fascination over everything that is odd (although we're still surprised every day, believe me) and are starting to see the next layer of the art of being here.

Tomorrow we leave for Osaka.