I won’t say much on this one, except for a short warning: Careful, high “cute factor” – new pics of Angel and Arwen! =)
The next morning, some of us once again visited the onsen, after which we left the hotel by bus for the shinkansen station in Shin-Fuji. This time, we had a different kind of shinkansen with only 2 seats on each side of the aisle – making it much easier to enjoy the trip. We also noticed that the conductor as well as the stewardess performed a general bow when they entered or left the car… By then we usually didn’t see anything strange in bowing any more, I’d even started to bob a little up and down in return myself when thanking someone – but somehow this still felt a little extreme. Our destination for this day was Himeji with its beautiful “White Heron Castle”. At the station, we were greeted in proper style by a glockenspiel of the Bremen Town Musicians (!).
After a short stop to buy some umbrellas – that day was the first time it rained – we moved on towards the castle. It rises majestically on a small hill in the otherwise flat town, making the view from the five-story main keep a great experience.
The interior is still well preserved – Himeji is one of few castles that did not burn down in the past and had to be rebuilt. Of course, some renovation was done here as well, but the dark wood the interior is made of is still original and makes for a very elegant feeling. There’s an exhibition of samurai armor and weapons, paintings and writings from the castle’s time of origin. The stairs between the floors are kind of odd: they are very steep, with low crossbeams not only big gaijins have to duck down for but also people of normal height – the crossbeam was approximately at shoulder height for me…
Apart from the impressive main keep, you can also visit the small but very nice garden and a living area in a castle wall. At the end of a long hallway with numerous wooden sliding windows and rooms branching off there is a large room recreated as it might have been 300 years ago: tatami mats on the floor, a few seemingly simple pieces of furniture, inhabited by the princess and one of her court ladies playing a game with shells (maybe a variant of Pairs?). Everything looked really realistic and is definitely worth a visit as well.
Our program for this day over, we went on, by shinkansen once more, to our hotel in Hiroshima: the Hotel Sunroute, located next to the Peace Memorial Park. More of which (and of Miyajima) later in another post – just a few more words regarding our dinner: we all went to the Okonomimura in Hiroshima in order to try some Okonomiyaki – I had looked forward to this, and I was not disappointed! The amount of ingredients alone necessary for this kind of omelet: a thin baked base, a huge pile of white cabbage, another pile of fried noodles, bacon, shrimps, spring onions, a fried egg on top to hold everything together and on top of THAT sauce and herbs. It’s incredibly delicious – I only had problems with the chopsticks, eating this monster in a civilized manner seems rather impossible…
As the account of my trip to Japan will take some time yet (I’ve finally finished it in German, but the English version is taking me awfully long to translate), here is a short update on my aikido training! =) On April 2nd, the first of us passed her grading to fifth kyu. Actually, our grading date was supposed to be April 23rd, but she had to have an operation on her wrist and would not have been able to grade otherwise. She had asked me to be her uke (attacker) and I had a lot of fun: the concentration and focus was almost tangible, and the pace was notably faster than usual.
The other four of us will grad on Thursday, April 23rd. Unlike our first test, I’m really looking forward to this one! =) Although there are some points I still am uneasy with (mainly the tests for the hitori waza and the entry/entering to katatedori ikkyo irimi when uke attacks while moving), but apart from that I’m feeling quite confident.
Change of subject: our teacher set me the task to improve my overall condition until September – by then I will need it for a 7-day-seminar as well as for being uke for her 3rd dan grading. (Yes, I’ve got stage fright. Already.) I half-heartedly tried several approaches, but as expected they had no effect. So now I’ve brought out my bike – for the first time in six years! – and go to work by bike four times a week, that’s more than 70 km each week. My legs, suprisingly, are not complaining much. I guess if this measure doesn’t improve my condition, nothing will… =)
The next day started with a visit to one of the most impressive sights of our tour: the Daibutsu of Kamakura, a 13 m tall bronze statue of a meditating Buddha. What makes the statue so exceptional is not just its height or its age (800 years) but mostly its calm, peaceful presence.
Also in Kamakura we visited the Hase-Kannon temple. The first thing to catch our eye was that the plum trees there were already blooming – in January! The Koi carps in the pond amidst the plum trees were not hibernating any more, either. (Or do Koi hibernate at all…? ^_^) On the grounds of the temple, many small temples and prayer sites (one even located in a cave) were located as well as a small bamboo grove and statues of gods everywhere – this mix made it very interesting.
Afterwards, we continued on towards lake Ashi with its breathtaking view of Mount Fuji. We were very lucky as sometimes the weather does not allow a view of the Fuji at all. But thanks to our clear view I now understand why Mount Fuji has such a good reputation. Although I usually don’t see what’s so interesting about mountains, I definitely have to admit Mount Fuji is extremely beautiful.
We used a pirate ship ferry (!) to cross the lake. On the other side, our bus took us to the “Boiling Valley”, where we tasted strange black eggs that had been cooked in sulfurous water (the shell turns black, but the egg itself stays white and is really yummy). Then we went to our second hotel, the Jiragonno Fuji-no-Yakata. Before falling into our beds, however, we had to try the real Onsen bath of the hotel complete with Japanese sitting shower (vocabulary?), of course. A really great invention, very relaxing after a long day.
One part of the tour to Nikko we travelled by Shinkansen. Most impressive was not the ride itself but the speed at which the train races through those stations it doesn’t stop at. The average speed of the Shinkansen is 280 km/h (174 mph – and that already includes the stops!), and they pass the train station with this speed as well. It’s really crazy to watch a 400m-long train pass the station in 5 seconds. From Ueno in Tokyo we took the Shinkansen to Utsunomiya, where we changed trains and travelled the rest of the way to Nikko with a slow train. We had been told to dress warmly, and indeed, Nikko is relatively high in the mountains and quite a bit colder than Tokyo. We visited three shrines and one temple, and I have to say that the shrines of shogun Tokugawa Ieasu and his grandson Tokugawa Iemitsu are among the most beautiful and magnificient we saw on our journey. The setting is of course supports the effect quite well: the shrines and temples are surrounded by a forest of huge old cedars, providing them with a suitably enchanted feeling. =)
When we arrived at Tokyo’s Narita airport, we got our first shock: every single official was extremely friendly and the entry procedures very well organized – taking our fingerprints took no longer than one minute. The second shock followed soon: feeling adventurous, I bought something to drink aiming for the most unfamiliar look and ended up with a green tea that was terribly bitter.
Then we continued on towards our hotel by train and taxi (there was a funny sign on the taxi call saying “Please press the button several times” – why not just once?!). The Hotel Blue Wave Inn in Asakusa was a modern business hotel with a fantastic view of the Senso-Ji temple next door. During a short excursion of the neighborhood I tried speaking Japanese for the first time – failing dramatically: we intended to buy “two of each of these four daifuku” but ended up with four instead of eight. Ah well, it was still fun.
In order to help us with our jetlag, we then started our first trip through Tokyo with the help of our tour guide. Passing the temple we made our way to our first meeting with Tokyo’s metro. Contrary to our expectations, there were relatively few people (must have been the time of day, it was early afternoon). We went to visit Shibuya – a bustling shopping quarter whose target group seemingly are teenager in gaudy clothes. It’s most famous sight is the huge crossroad where hundreds or even thousands of people cross the road at the same time – like a giant anthill!
We also saw the statue of Hachiko, the faithful dog waiting for his owner each day at the station. The diversity of the buildings was another noteworthy point: from stained-glass windows to fake gothic facades and art nouveau balconies we saw lots of different stilistic elements – of course topped by colorful LED or LCD displays on the walls. After a few hours of sightseeing and shopping, we returned to our hotel, bought a first dinner (Onigiri, yummy rice in a triangular form with e.g. salmon filling, wrapped in seaweed) in a Conbini shop and afterwards, finally!, went to bed. =)
On the second day, we started our official program with a sightseeing tour of Tokyo. First, however, we explored our first Japanese breakfast – apart from standard European bread, ham and eggs there were lots of interesting Japanese dishes we had to try. In my opinion, those ranged from edible to actually quite good, with one exception: umeboshi, sour-salty pickled mini plums that tasted simply horrible.
The first item on our agenda was a short stop at the beautiful subject of the Imperial palace behind a western-style bridge over its moat.
Having taken several pictures, we continued towards the Meiji shrine located in a small wood in the middle of Tokyo, which made its atmosphere even more peaceful and pleasant. By the way, I was really amazed how “green” Japan is in January, especially compared to gloomy gray Germany!
As a nice contrast, we visited the observation deck of the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower next, one of the highest skyscrapers of Japan. Up there I realized for the first time just how huge a city Tokyo is: tall houses everywhere, all the way to the horizon, in every direction. Simply incredibly huge.
Afterwards, we returned to Asakusa and visited “our” Senso-Ji once more, admiring its impressive gates and giant lanterns.
Then we proceeded towards the Ginza, the most expensive and classy shopping area in Tokyo. The atmosphere was similar to Shibuya, just as colorful and bright, only not as noisy. The buildings virtually fought for the attention of the customers: each color-changing LED facade was more flashy then the one before.
We had dinner in a Korean restaurant in Asakusa where we had – among others – sushi, thin slices of meat we barbecued (is that the correct word?) on a table grill, square omelets and a rice hotpot – everything really tasty.
The next day, we took the Shinkansen and went to Nikko… (to be continued!)
… and already ready to go there again! =)
I’ll post a detailed diary with pictures of my tour soon – here is a very short summary in advance: Japan was just as beautiful, unfamiliar and fascinating as I had hoped and expected.
Only a few of many noticeable differences: People standing in neat lines everywhere, even during rush hours in the metro; automats not just for buying soft drinks but also for ordering a meal in a restaurant; the contrast of mulitcolored noisy Shibuya and our quiet hotel in Asakusa or the peaceful atmosphere of temples and shrines; salespersons bowing towards the street once more while the shop is closing – or bending over backwards to help us customers even outside business hours; the care and perfection in every detail, no matter how small; the unexpected food variety ranging from “Wow – yummy!” to “Ohmygod what’s THAT?!?”; my attempts at speaking Japanese, futile in the beginning but with a few small triumphs later on… =)
Just before christmas, I finally booked the vacation I have been dreaming of for years… a sightseeing tour of 10 days through Japan! =D
After one of my family had finally shown some interest to accompany me, we were at first planning to go in March or April. But then we found a very advantageous offer for January, and now our flight will be leaving in only 9 days. The journey will go from Tokyo to Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima, Nikko, Kamakura and finally to Osaka with lots of visits at temples, shrines, castles, palaces, Fuji-san, an onsen bath etc. etc. etc.
I’ve already bought an adaptar plug and a huge new memory card for my camera for 1,500 pictures… However, the situation still seems somewhat unreal: in just 9 days I will be in Japan! =)
By the way. I have kept a tight reign on my feelings all throughout this text in order not to flood it with smileys and exclamation marks… So here’s just a short summary: I’M GOING TO JAPAN! IN JUST 9 DAYS!! WOOHOOOOO!!! =)))
My latest painting:
For full view in a much larger version, please click here.
Woops! No sooner do you look over your shoulder and turn around three times counterclockwise and Christmas and New Year’s all of a sudden haven come and gone already!
The busy pre-christmas season, an aikido seminar halfway across Germany and a week spent at my sister’s made me completely forget I have a blog to feed.
So, what happened since the end of November?
First f all, I booked my dream vacation… but that one will get a post on its own later, in order to enjoy the anticipation more. =)
Of course I’ve kept going to aikido trainings regularly three times a week and have had lots of fun, however there is no noticeable process to record. On December 27th and 28th my teacher and I took part in a Christmas aikido seminar with Yoshigasaki-sensei near Heidelberg. It was a great experience although the techniques and contents still remain way over my head (of course).
After the seminar I continued in the same direction towards my sister’s family and my cuuute little nephew – by now he even says “Haio?” (instead of German “Hallo?”) when you give him a telephone! =) After five nice and fairly quiet days – apart from that little blond whirlwind making us chase him again and again – I returned to Fürth on January 2nd.
The following weekend I spent mostly at three performances of the musical RENT, where I met with two of my best friends, who by now study in Hamburg and Vienna (one of them was part of the group himself, the other was a member of the same group until last year).
Well, and now it’s already January 2009 and everything is back to usual. Work, musical training, aikido, lots of new books, a little painting in between…
… and I was given the task to improve my overall condition/stamina/endurance (sorry, vocabulary problems) until summer. That will be hard. Jogging won’t do, as it doesn’t agree with my knees. I tried it a few times in 2007, each time afterwards being almost unable to walk for a week because my knees hurt like hell – I won’t repeat that. The alternative of going for long walks of several hours is not feasible as I simply haven’t got the time. I’ll try something different for now: repeating our most demanding dancing songs for maybe 30 minutes each day. I hope that will help, as I can’t think of an alternative at the moment. =)