Saturday, May 13, 2006

Japan Day 5: Arriving in Kyoto

I've been here five days and I still can't speak Japanese. Renee's teaching me words but with no context of grammar, they're just a collection of syllables. Which means they're lost after five minutes.

This was evident when I met Renee's host sister, Hisako. She spoke as much English as I spoke Japanese. We tried to communicate as best we could using gestures, tone and Renee as an interpreter. Apparantly she greeted me with "your husband has a giant nose." I was already aware of this.

In some ways, I could communicate on the same level with her baby, Aya-Chan. Since she's at the age where she doesn't know any language it was a helpful reminder that language is only one level of communication.

Tokyo gave us one last full day. We took a cab over to Asakusa, the largest temple in Tokyo, which houses the largest flea market in Tokyo. Proof Jesus wasn't Buddhist. Hisako told us it was a lighter crowd than usual. Only 17 class trips today.

We left the temple and took the water bus down the river Sumidagawa
which helped us connect the sections of Tokyo together. When you take the subway, all you get are snapshots of the city.

We got off at a park which led to a brand new section, the Shiodome. It's the most modern part of a very modern city, with a two story high sidewalk crossing the highways. It was close enough that we could walk back to the hotel, grab our bags and catch the train at Tokyo station.

Today was the first day that language was really a barrier in Japan. On the other hand, it was good for Renee to really practice her Japanese, since most of the friends we'd met so far had spent time in the States. She'd been working so hard in preparation I enjoyed seeing her put those skills to the test. I think we'll need those skills in Kyoto.

Here are Renee's thoughts:

We got a beautiful, sunny day for what was going to be just a last morning in Tokyo before taking the Shinkansen to Kyoto.

Thursday afternoon I got a call from Hisako (the oldest of the 3 host-sisters, there is also the youngest a boy in the family); she called to try to get together as she lives outside Tokyo, near Tokyo Disneyland. Her husband in works for Nippon Shinbushi (large newspaper) and has 2 kids now. Her son [4] was at preschool, so Ayano [1] was able to join us for a trip to Asakusa with a ride on the water bus down from Asakusa to the Shimbashi area. This is the Asahi Brewery above; the 1st site passed on water taxi.

It was fun to see Hisako in mother-role; although she was always a strong older-sister too. Te first thing she said was “your husband’s nose it big isn’t it;” but then agreed he looked like Bono.

We hopped into a taxi and went to Askausa to see the shrine and all the other things there; what a hot spot for tourists!!! I was surprised how packed it was; Hisako kept right on pushing the stroller as if we were not in a sea of school-uniformed kids! It was an experience as we had not yet been in such crowds before. Amongst all the tiny shops leading up to temple, Hisako pointed out little things and all the toy shops for Jon. We stole a few minutes take in the sites and Hisako and I got to catch-up while Aya-chan and Jon bonded.

All around the area were restaurants and tons of shops. We headed down strips that looked interesting and got to see a pachincho parlor, a sambe (toasted rice-cakes with soy sauce) stand and lots of little restaurants. It was neat and a nice break from the crowds. After a quick stop at Starbucks (the EXACT same as any you’d find in the States), we got on the “water-bus”. Hisako had never been on the boat either, so we were all in for a treat. It was fun to see all the bridges we passed under and some sites we had not had a chance to see; like Tokyo Tower. I honestly never really understood what the big deal is about it, but it is popular. J

We ended our journey at a park, which lead us to the Shiodome complex; thanks to our many walks around the Ginza shops, we were able to find our way back to our hotel quickly.

Hisako did help us navigate our way to Tokyo Station (just a quick walk from the hotel). I was impressed with the architecture of the mini-expo center above the station [think Madison Square Garden and Penn Station]. Nonetheless, I really appreciated having Hisako taking us where we needed to go to get our tickets to Kyoto. This was really the moment where I felt Hisako was the older sister again; it was nice and made me more excited to see the Konishi Family after our next leg in Kyoto.

Once we got ourselves a bento (lunch box) we found the platform and waited for our bullet train. We got to see the train [a 700 series] pull in and it was very welcoming to see the comfy seats after all that walking in the sun! I love how efficient the trains are here; everything is on such a schedule! I asked the conductor when we can expect to see Mt. Fuji and he wrote a note of 17:48 – 17:50, the exact time we would be passing it. Sadly, the weather was too bad to see it; we saw a bunch of clouds and other mountains, but no luck for photos.

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