Over the ten plus years I've been using the internet I've gained a reputation for writing long emails. A fact my MBA classmates such as Marlene and Gary Lau can attest to. Other people who used to be the recipients of my long emails include Heidi Staats and Debbie Van Damn, plus the 40K mailing list. I'm not sure if this is the longest email I've ever written but it is plenty long.
Wherein is contained the true and factual account of the journies of a Mr. Andrew Muschamp McKay through the Kansai region of Japan including a side trip to Shikoku in the two thousand and fourth year of our Lord.
Through long and treacherous negotiations and mainly due to the fact there were only four possible weeks left I could use my 'personal days' I was able to secure a near unprescidented 12 days off during Golden Week.
Golden Week for those not in the know is a week with no less than three national statutory holidays in Japan. Japan despite it's reputation for being a heavan for work-a-holics has more statutory holidays then most any other country you care to name including the Good Old USA and CanaDuh.
Thus armed with 12 days off and a brand new pay check complete with overtime pay I set out for Kobe - 神戸, home of Kobe beef. IE the beef they feed beer too. IE really expensive. Trying to keep the cost of my journey to a managable amount I opted to try an Indian restaurant which was recomended in my guide book. As in addition to Kobe beef, Kobe is famous for Indian food at least that is what the book says. Alas I could not find the restaurant, nor could I find Ryan's Irish Pub my other destination for the night.
Down hearted and tired of walking I went to a place that was serving fish and chips. Now having grown up in Vancouver Island and being a regular patron at the now closed but still rusting Brico, I was used to a quality fish and chips. I even prefered catching Ling Cod when I was a kid to Salmon, as that ment we would be having fish and chips for dinner. Alas the fish and chips at the Hub disappointed.
I thought "the Hub" would be a unique dining experience. I've since learned that this a chain of English Style pubs in Japan. Naturally at an English Style pub you would expect to find Dutch beer on special. Tiring of Grolsch I switch to Pilsner Urquell which is even harder to spell. Normally I would take Czech beer over Dutch beer everyday of the week and twice on Sunday, but on that night the Grolsch tasted better.
Next I went to an internet cafe. I was still trying to sort out some of the many issues about my return to UBC. I still need a place to live for those in the Vancouver area. So after an hour of surfing the net and answering email from Thorin and Mike Beninger and that ilk I headed out looking for the heart of Saturday night in Kobe.
Alas the Tom Waits song stuck in my head was "Ole 55". After wandering the length and breadth of the entertainment district without finding "Ryan's" I dipped into a small place called Cool which billed itself as a "N.Y. Feeling Space". It was small and dark but had Heinikan on tap. It also had Ceasar salad.
Ceasar salad in Japan is not the same as Ceasar salad in the rest of the world. It'll contain lettuce, it may or may not contain crutons or cheese. It might contain raw salmon or just about anything else some Japanese person decides should be in Ceasar salad.
The best Ceasar salad I had in Japan was at the Outback Steakhouse in Nagoya. I got some decent salads in Tokyo but ever since I've been longing for Earls.
So after two beers at "Cool" I wandered around some more. It was still early and I felt it would be defeatist to return to my hotel at this early hour. I headed to a One Coin Shot bar. As I figured I would at least find cheap drinks.
This place was right by the station and packed with Gaijin - 外人. I of course sat alone at the bar drinking my "Black Beer". This place had Kirin dark beer on draft a first for me. Eventually most of the gaijin left including the two friends of a girl who later came in looking for them. She asked me about them and due to my keen powers of observation I remembered the lads. She promptly lead me to "Ryan's".
According to a guy from the British Merchant Marines who loves Victoria, Ryan's is the best night out in Japan. They have Guiness and Killkenny on tap and supposedly even a few All Blacks were drinking there that night. I drank my 7th and 8th beers of the night and even ended up dancing a bit. I was proudly wearing my "Must have been high" Supersuckers country album t-shirt. I had to explain the Supersuckers to a few people. As I was leaving at 3 after last call the girl in the elevator knew exactly who they were.
Ryan's belongs to the Japanese tradition of bars on say the 7th floor with only a little tiny sign or no sign at all at street level. You have to walk around looking up if you expect to find what you are looking for in Japan.
Whew all that and I'm still on the first day of the journey...
Time to invoke the powers of brevity. Fear the powers of brevity, bow before the powers of brevity, err I digress.
The next day I went to Tokushima - 徳島 by bus. This turned out easy and not too long of a journey. I did have to cross over two massive suspension bridges including the longest one in the world at over 3Km. In Tokushima I met up with Junichi who promptly drove me to the top of a mountain. I got some swell pictures (maybe) from the top of Bizen. Then we went to his office were he promptly fell asleep leaving me to surf the internet.
I was tired myself due to the night before and my eyes were bothering me already as my glasses had broke again so I was forced to wear contacts everyday of my vacation even after I got sick...
After diner at his house I went to bed and he went to work. The next day his mother's boyfriend took me on a whirl wind tour of Tokushima-ken. I saw some piles of dirt which was actually kinda cool. I also saw the number one Shinto shrine in Tokushima and the first temple on the 88 temple circuit. I also went to the German house but it and the bridge observatory/tour were closed on Monday. Then we went to see a dance. I refused to dance which maybe had caused offence...
The next day I was largely on my own. I didn't do much except walk around the town. I tried to find an internet cafe but again my lonely planet map let me down. Luckily Kirk from Nova Scotia helped me out. After surfing the internet for two hours at a cost of 10 yen a minute I walked around some more. I eventually found another internet place a lot closer to the station.
The next day my final one in Tokushima was spent waiting for Junichi. I spent a lot of time waiting for Junichi in Tokushima he was busy doing software development, egads! Finally we went to the bus station were I had curry and rice for lunch for the second day in a row and then I caught my bus to Kyoto - 京都.
I got to Kyoto and had a little difficulty finding my ryokan ie Hotel. The place was too big. All the other ryokan I stayed at were smaller, this place was like seven stories tall. I had to ask two people plus phoned the front desk, during this I was no more than 100 meters from the building at all times.
After checking in I discovered my room contained two twins and I would only be charged 3000 yen a night despite it being Golden Week. This is was due to the friends of friends network with fond memories of UVIC. My hotel was right by the train/subway station and the Pig and Whistle another smaller chain of English Style pubs. I went into this one and it was dead. I ordered the fish and chips, again disappointing. I actually ordered more chips. In addition to taste the size is lacking in fish and chips in Japan.
I was drinking Heineken drafts and writing postcards when what should come on the stereo but "Ahead by a century". This was such a momentous occaision I immediately ran up to the bar to inquire about the song and wrote Dave.
The next day I ate at Subway and drank my first two Snapples since I've been in Japan. I couldn't get Snapple at Subway oh for the days when you could get Snapple at Subway. But across from Subway in the underground mall at Kyoto station was a western food store which had Snapple.
I also chatted to an Aussie about Elvis Costello and other esoteric topics before finally meeting Yayoi for the first time in ten years. We then went and stood in Starbucks as there were no seats. I ate yet more food and drank a cafe mocha while we caught up. Later we wondered around and had Ramen for diner.
I almost forgot to relate my story of the tourist info office. My goal for the day was to get a map from the tourist information office as I'd lost some faith in the Lonely Planet maps. Alas the tourist information office had moved. It's new location as of April 1st 2004 is the 9th floor of the department store in the train station. All the guidebooks and even the maps in the station and streets themselves are wrong currently.
After an early night I may have gotten up and went to Himeji - 姫路 to see the castle. I'm getting hazy and my day planner seriously lacks information. I know I went to see Himeji Castle. I sent postcards from Himeji. The castle was nice though more impressive from the outside. Inside you have to wear the provided sandles which are too small and that's no fun climbing seven floors of steep narrow stairs. You could alternately not wear shoes or sandles, next time I'm opting for that...
After Himeji I went back to Kyoto to sleep in my cheap bed. On the 30th I went to a bank machine. That is what my day planner says. Actually I went to a bank machine in a convience store another first for being in Japan. During Golden Week even bank machines go on vacation. This turned out to be the last time I got money out for almost a week. Luckily I got out 50,000 yen. I also was glad Kyoto is more credit card friendly than small town Japan.
Besides going to the bank machine I don't know what I did that day, it appears I may have gone to the bank machine and Himeji castle in the same day. This makes sense cause I held off eating until after I got more cash so I ate in Himeji...
That night I set out for a Tenpura - 天ぷら place that was recommended in my guidebook but ended up eating a donair which was disappointing. Germany has better Donairs and Beer than Japan. I went back to my hotel to do laundry at a coin operated machine just on the side of the street.
Since I didn't party it up Friday night I was fresh to meet Yayoi on Saturday. We went to Toji - 東寺 and saw the tallest Pagoda in Japan. This was not that exciting actually, though the garden was nice enough. Than after lunch or at least another trip to another Starbucks where I got brain freeze drinking an iced mocha we went to the hardest temple to spell and pronouce for me, Sanjusangendo - 三十三間堂 this was popular, we had to queue as the Brittish would say. Actually we went to to another site first Nijo jinya - 二条陣屋 which is a Samurai - 侍 inn in the very begining before anything else. It could have been cooler if the tour wasn't entirely in Japanese and I was informed beforehand I could buy an English information sheet for 100 yen. Many Sugoi's were uttered by at least one fellow Japanese tourist, so it impressed the locals too. Sugoi - すごい is one of my least favorite Japanese words.
Though I didn't know it at the time it was May Day which ment massive protest/march/parade right at the subway station we decided to meet at.
Dinner that night was an out of the way Mexican restaurant which was the only Mexican restaurant in the guidebook. Yayoi had a hankering for Mexican.
That night since it was still early and dispite a slight cold and not satisfied with two obscure Mexican beers I set out for the entertainment district to find some place to at least people watch and write my postcards. After failing to find Zappa's I was accosted in the street by Ed from Michigan and his wife and we fell into talking about hockey. I ended up having a couple drinks with them in two different bars before wisely tearing myself away before it got late cause I was sick and all and had a big day ahead of me.
Sunday was to be my last day in Kyoto but I decided to stay an extra day cause I was getting such a sweet deal and my guide book said it was easy enough to make a day trip to Osaka from Kyoto so that was set for Monday leaving me Sunday to see more temples and do the dreaded souvenir shopping.
The number one temple still on my ta do list was Chionin - 知恩院 because it had the largest bell in Japan, 73 tonnes! It was on the side of a hill to so it must have been a bitch carrying it up there. I got to this temple first thing in the morning and largely beat the tourist groups. I also got it into my head to hike all the way to the top of the hill through the cemetary presumeably to the Emperor's or someone else important's tomb at the top. This put a bit of a hurtin' on me cause like I said I was sick.
As was the tradition I didn't eat breakfast until after my first temple and hike.
Actually I went to two temples before lunch. I skipped the one right next to Chionin but I tried to cut through Heian Jingu - 平安神宮. I even paid to go in its garden all on an empty stomach. Part way through the garden they were selling ice cream on a stick so breakfast was ice cream on a stick. After breakfast I walked and passed by lots of places until I got to my next destination, the Kyoto Handicrafts Center.
In this building are seven floors of gift shops. It isn't one big gift shop though there are several businesses sharing the building. Before I tackled this I went next door and ate at a cafe it was really quite good I even had chocolate cake which is shocking I know.
Before buying a thing I first walked through all the floors, turns out there is a buffet on one floor for the tour groups. Actually almost all the shoppers were gaijin so maybe it caters to them, it was in my guide book... I couldn't decide what to buy my mom so I called her for advice. I ended up buying her jewellery. According to some sheet I was given if I spent 10,503 yen at one store I would get it tax free. So I went to another floor that was still part of the store I bought my mom's gift at to buy something else. Turns out if you've been in Japan over six months this no tax deal is right out. I don't think it said that on my brochure. I didn't want any hassles so I paid the tax.
Eventually I bought all my gifts and got all my stamps in my brochure and was set to leave when low and behold because I spent over 10,000 yen I got a free spin and won a 1000 yen gift certificate. Since I already bought all my souvenirs for everyone I was a bit miffed. Apparently I could have won a 10,000 yen gift certificate which I was also miffed about I was offered no less than 5 key chains which was the prize below a 1000 yen and I said screw it and went back and bought more jewellery.
I then took my bags of souvenirs back to my hotel where I decided I was done with temples for the day.
Once again I set out after a break for the entertainment district which was right by my hotel to find "A bar". I'm not sure if it is pronounced "a bar" or "eh bar". Anyway it is small and I was seated with a Scot, a Welshman, and an Aussie and the two Japanese guys they were with. Eventually more people were seated at our table too. The Scot named Scott said to me "I'm glad you're not American". I calmly replied "I'm glad I'm not American too.". Apparently even sick and tired I'm witty. They actually had some decent music at this place and I planned to nurse my second dai bin - 大瓶 and go home. Than they decided to leave for "The Hub" apparently there is a Hub in Kyoto too.
They twisted my rubber arm and I had them help me finish my bottle of beer and we set out to a bank machine that was actually open. I later tried this machine and couldn't make it work with my card. Maybe I rely too much on the English translations at bank machines...
The Hub was reasonably busy and I set out drinking Lowenbrau another difficult to spell for me German beer. One of the Japanese guys ordered a litre of beer which he actually finished which guilted the other three gaijin into ordering one. Meanwhile I was on my second or third Lowenbrau and even gave the Japanese girl some gruff in German about trying to sell me Heineken. The Japanese must love Heineken it is everywhere.
Eventually I succumbed and had a tower of beer too. I finished mine faster than most egged on by the Welshman, though I did spill some on my shirt. Eventually various people shared our table including a Moroccan and a Bulgarian. I even dug out my passport to show the Bulgarian that I had visited his country. The Welshman, the Scot and the Aussie had to catch the last train somewhere at 11:00 ish leaving some undrank Coronas so I had one and gave one to the Bulgarian. Corona is foul even after a couple litres of beer to warm up. I can't believe it is so popular. Corona and Heineken are at every connivence store in Japan.
Next we played pool, the beer hadn't helped my game neither had at least a year since my last game but I did OK... Had to straighten the Moroccan out about having to call his shots.
They left, I left. The next morning my throat was a mess. Before going to bed I had a good night donair from a different donair shop but it wasn't much better. I also drank some vitamin C drink all to no avail.
I forced myself to get out of bed and get going to Daigo-ji - 醍醐寺 fairly early in the morning. Since I wasn't to meet Justin in Osaka - 小坂 until 2:30 I decided to see one last temple. This one is big. Despite having no breakfast、 not having any water with me、 and not knowing how windy and rock strewn the path I was on was, not to mention the length I decide to climb to the top of the mountain. It took well over an hour especially when I was on the largely unmarked backroute for the more seriously crazy Japanese mountain worshipers.
Eventually I made it to the top, where there was a vending machine. Alas it was out of cold drinks so seriously hurtin' I had hot chocolate in a can! The can was so hot it almost burnt my hand. After taking a few photos and skymailing Justin I set out to go down the proper way. The main route is no piece of cake. Going up my Achilles tendons killed cause my feet were point up the steep windy path for an hour or more. Going down it was my knees that took the brunt of it. After maybe another hour going down I was out of memory in my camera and late.
I was also sweaty, tired, hungry, possibly dehydrated and lugging around the souvenir book I bought before I went up the mountain... So since Justin was in no hurry I went home and showered. I also had Wendy's and caught the train to Osaka.
In Osaka we tried to find the Hard Rock Cafe which had moved. I suspected this but once again tried to find it using the map in the Lonely Planet. Eventually we went to its new location where I bought souvenirs and a new shirt for me. Then since we were there we decided to eat at the Hard Rock. My trip to the Hard Rock Cafe in Korea was a good experience the food seemed affordable and the size big. The size was still big in Japan, in fact I felt like I would explode having had my Wendy's meal only a few hours earlier, but the price seemed steeper.
After dinner we walked around a bit and I bought my omiyage - おみやげ than I went back to Kyoto by train.
The next day I packed up and was really worried about my money supply. I had just over 5000 yen left in cash. I paid for my hotel with my credit card then went outside into a huge rain storm. I left my bags with the frontdesk. I bought an umbrella and a drink but my voice was still shot. I walked around trying to find a working bank machine. I eventually gave up and without having breakfast went back to my hotel to get my bags and then went to the train station.
With all my bags which were bolstered by buying all the souvenirs I lined up to buy my ticket home. Feeling broke I again bought a local train ticket home, this required 2-3 transfers and considerably more waiting for the train that my trip to Kobe had. I paid with a credit card leaving me 5000 yen for lunch, snacks, throat lozenges, and a cab from Toyohashi train station to my apartment.
I made it home but I was tired and sick. I didn't do much that day or the next. Partly cause I had about 1000 yen cash and partly cause I was sick. I was glad I had two days to rest before going to work. I was also glad I only had to work two days this week. Now I'm finished this monstrosity I just have to type out all 50 email addresses and give it a once over...
If you think it took a long time to read, imagine how long it took to type! That is if it even gets past the spam filters...