Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Japan: Day 04

Today we decided to head out to Hiroshima!

Almost everyone in the world knows about Hiroshima, but just in case you live under a rock, I'll explain.   Japan had launched a surprise attack on the US by bombing Pear Harbor in Hawaii, which ultimately got the US involved in the war.  Hiroshima is a city in Japan that the US targeted to test the Atomic bomb on during WWII, and hopefully win the war for good.

What I don't remember learning in school (although there's a lot I don't remember, so no surprise there), is that the US considered many different cities before deciding to attack Hiroshima, or even deciding to attack Japan in general.  The reason they chose not to drop the bomb on Germany is because they were totally expecting it.

We got up that morning and hopped on the train.  It was about an hour and a half ride by bullet train, and we didn't have reserved seats, so we had to stand for most of the time.
 Standing room only!

It was okay though, I made my own seat!

The station was very close to the bomb dome, so once we got off the train it was easy to find.  Hiroshima was sad, but it was also probably one of my favorite places in Japan.  The city is beautiful, the people are so nice, and the Peace Park was absolutely perfect.

The bomb dome was so impressive.  Very big and left to stand as a monument to remember, it was peaceful in of itself.

 First glimpse of the bomb dome.  Very big.

 You can still make out the top of the structure, as if the roof were still there.

There's a very famous story in Hiroshima about a young girl who turned horribly sick due to the atomic bombing, and was told by doctors that should would only have one year to live.  When she heard a story that if you folded one thousand paper cranes your wish would be granted, she began to fold and fold and fold cranes.  However, she lacked paper, so she used whatever she could get her hands on, candy wrappings, tissues, anything.  She would go to different hospital rooms and ask to use tissue paper from gifts they recieved.  Her best friend brought any paper she could from school.  However, she fell short of her goal and died before she finished one thousand folded cranes.

The story inspires generation after generation of Japanese girls, and millions fold cranes and bring them to the peace park in her honor.

 Thousands and thousands of hanging origami cranes.

More cranes, hanging and creating different images.

Next we visited the peace museum, which I was surprised to find was not hateful at all towards the US.  In fact, one of the first things I read said: "in 1941, Japan walked the path of war."  I also saw some amazing things that had to do with the war, including authentic letters written by Albert Einstein to president Roosevelt.  It was really sad, seeing a lot of the images from the bombing.

There was also a room dedicated to everyone who died during the atomic bombing, including Americans.  I found one and snapped his picture.

Porter Raymond

After the museum, we popped into a cafe to grab a bit to eat.  There was a little old Japanese woman sitting across from us that immediately started talking and pointing and waving her hands.  She was in love with Dave, and tried and tried and tried to talk to us.  I only know a little Japanese, so it was hard for us to communicate, but she wanted pictures, so she whipped out her camera and started snapping away.  At one point I sat down next to her for a picture and she pushed me out of the way and waved Dave over.  After pictures, she instructed us to wait for 30 minutes, then left and got the pictures developed and came right back to hand them over!  She was very sweet, and told us that Dave was the only one who looked American, and that I was obviously Italian, and Mike was obviously Jewish.

 Here she is!  She talked with us forever!  She also game me a drink coaster she made herself!  Very cool lady!

We waved goodbye and headed out to find the site where the bomb actually hit Hiroshima.  It took a bit, the monument was so tiny, we missed it at first!

 Here it is, next to a random building.  We missed it at first.

 Picture of the bombing aftermath.  This spot is called the Hypocenter.

After finding the Hypocenter, we made our way to Hiroshima Castle, which was rebuilt minus all the commoner buildings.  It was very beautiful.

 Front door of Hiroshima Castle!  It looks so strange with the giant modern buildings in the backdrop!

 Dave, Mike and I inside the gates of the castle.

Castle long hall!

The area around the castle was very beautiful as well, I found a spot of the other side of the water channel that cut through the castle grounds and got a quick shot.
It was such a nice, sunny day!
The castle also had a tower, and we got to go inside and climb all the way to the top.  It was huge!  I got some GREAT pictures.  :)

I thought the tower was so pretty, probably my favorite part of the whole castle.

On our way down we ran into a group of Japanese high school boys trying on a Samurai outfit, when they saw us watching, the one trying on the outfit said: "Hi!" and I said Hi back, then I whipped out my camera and snapped a photo.

 He struck a sward-fighting pose for me!  Very authentic!

After I took the picture I pinched my cheek and said "Kawaii."  He said "Thank you" and everyone laughed.  Then I got to try it on!  The head piece was pretty heavy!

 I'm striking a pose of my own!  What do you think?

After our tour of Hiroshima, we headed back to Osaka, but on the way home we stopped in Kobe, for some Kobe beef!  Kobe is very famous for it's tender, juicy, delicious beef.  It's also very expensive, but we just had to try it once!  When we got off the train in Kobe it was late, around 9pm, and we were surprised to find that all the Kobe beef restaurants had closed for the night!  I asked a few of the cab drivers what they reccomended (I had to look up how to say it, it wasn't one of the words I knew), but none could think of a place to go until one nice cab driver pointed up to a hotel near the station and said: "Hotelu, hotelu,"  Which means 'hotel' in Japanese, so we thanked him and walked towards the hotel.  As I walked I practiced the sentence I would use to ask where we could go.  What I wanted to say was: "We want to eat Kobe beef, what do you recommend?"  I said it over and over before we got inside.  When we walked up to the counter, I asked the attendant if he knew English, but she shook his head.  So I said: "Kobe beef o tabetai desu kara, Osusumi wa nan desu ka?"  He immediately replied with a bow and left to get a map.  The attendent next to him smiled, gave me the thumbs up and said: "Perfect Japanese!"  I couldn't help the huge grin that spread across my face!  Yay!  PERFECT Japanese!  Just what I wanted to hear!

The only place open happened to be in the hotel up on the third floor, so we went up and had some Kobe beef!  Everyone was very nice and helpful, and the chef gave me his business card after we ate, he was a very good chef!

After eating our Kobe beef!  It was just as delicious as everyone says!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Japan: Day 03

Hello everyone!

I've been having problems with this site, but I think I got it all worked out.  Sorry for the delay.  I miss everyone!

Day three started out on a much brighter note, although I have to say I've never been more tired in my life!  The two full days of travel wore me out, and I woke up today feeling the strain of it.  But we were finally in Japan, and I was so exited to be here and go out and start to see Osaka.  We decided to head over to Denden town, which has a lot of shops and interesting restaurants.  :)  We got ready and stepped outside, and it was SUNNY!  So warm and bright!

Hiro's hostel is in the center of Korean Town, which has lots and lots of shops selling fish and kimchi (which I'm not a fan of).  The thought of eating any of that churned my tummy, so we decided to walk out of Korean Town before we ate breakfast.

Street view from the entrance of Korean Town!

The first thing edible we spotted was a shop selling cooked sweet rice, grilled in teryaki sauce.  I bought one right away and chowed down!

Grillin' up our sweet rice!

Mike and I eating our first mean in Japan!  It was very good.  Mike had his wrapped in seaweed which I opted out of.

We took the train to Osaka station and walked around for a bit to try and find Denden Town, and got kind of lost, but we found this cool park area, where we rested to look at a map and figure out where to go.

 Mike and Dave go over the map, while I document their efforts.

 View of the street from the park!

We got our barrings and headed back out towards Denden town.  On our way we saw some really great... sewage covers!  They were so pretty, I just had to take a picture!

Why aren't our sewage covers this pretty?
Finally we got to Denden Town!  Denden Town is very big, with lots and lots of shops, and the walkways are all covered so you can still shop when it starts to rain or snow! (Random Japanese Lesson!: Rain = ame and Snow = yuki)  I spent most of my money at the Bodyline store, which sells really cheap lolita outfits and accessories.  This is where I discovered that a lot of Japanese clothing stores only have ONE SIZE and that size is medium.  Sometimes medium is too big, and sometimes it's too small, it just depends on the brand, but they rarely have multiple sizes.  Also, most stores have a weird thing about hair and trying things on.  A lot of the time I wasn't allowed to try anything on that I bought, so I just had to guess.
We walked around a bit more and found the Glico neon sign!  This sign is REALLY famous in Osaka.
Here I am in front of the Glico sign!  This sign appears all over Japan, but this is the original!
After we walked around a bit more we headed for Hep5, a popular shopping mall with a huge ferris wheel that lets you see all around the city.  We immediately went to the top and got onto the ferris wheel.
 Dave and I riding the ferris wheel!

View of Osaka from the top!  Those are the trains down below!
After that we went down Hep5 to look at all the stores.  They were so expencive!  But they had really cute ice cream shops that were reasonably priced so we stopped in for some cute ice cream! (Japanese Lesson!:  Cute = Kawaii) 
 I can't wait to eat it!
How kawaii is that?  And yes, those are cornflakes in the middle!

After our ice cream, we ended our day with some bowling!  It was so strange how you bowl in Japan, you have to sign up at the register first, then you go over to a shoe dispenser (that's right, shoe DISPENSER), and turn the lock for your shoes.  It took us a while to figure out what size we were, and there were no female/male sizes, so weird!

Then we had to ride the elevator up to the fifth floor.  There were about fiver different floors with bowling allies.  When we got up to the fifth floor, an attendant was waiting for us as the elevator doors opened.  She bowed and showed us into the room, which had maybe eight lanes total.  She spoke no English, but still tried to explain about an extra game with bowling, which is kind of like bingo with your scores.  Once we finally understood her we got to pick out our bowling balls.  They were all color coordinated and stacked nicely in a row, and had basketball lines painted on them.  We bowled two games and didn't win at bingo.

 Dave destroying Mike and I at bowling.

In the middle of our game all the lights went out and the attendant got up in front of everyone and started speaking really loudly, she had a girl come up and try to bowl a strike, then the rest of us had to try and bowl a strike at once, it was crazy!  After that was done the lights all came back on and we continued to bowl as normal.  It was so weird.

Once we finished up we headed back and crashed.  It had been a long day.  Tomorrow we head out to Hiroshima!  See you then!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Japan: Day 01 and 02

Hello everyone.

I know it’s been a few days, but getting online has been harder than I thought it would be.  It’s very frustrating, but I think once I get to Tokyo it will be a different story.  The trip has been good so far, however, it’s also been disastrous.

I bought a book before I left, a compilation of stories written by women travelers to get me excited for my trip.  All the stories in the book are funny recounts of mishaps and disasters, and how traveling never goes the way you think it will.  It turns out reading that book was a blessing in disguise, because this trip has been anything but smooth so far.  In fact, I would say that it’s been a disaster.

Once we had checked in and settled down to our gate in Philadelphia, Mr. Westberg met up with us to try and hook us up with some sweet, first class seats.  Unfortunately the man at the gate was a complete jerk.  And not just because he denied us our first class seat, either.  Once Mr. Westberg left us at the gate he proceeded to have a tantrum because the speaker gave too much feedback and threw the microphone at his desk, and then made a girl cry over seating mix-ups.  We’re sitting right next to him when he tells the poor girl that she just completely wasted his time and to get over it.

Maybe he was just having a bad day?

                  Mike, Dave and I about ready to leave for our flight!

The flight to Toronto was short but pleasant, with clear views and friendly staff (thank god), and the layover wasn’t so bad either.  The plane we took to Narita was huge (HUGE), and we ended up sitting next to a very nice man from Iran, who told us funny stories about the old, rickety planes from his country.  We taught him how to play war and talked about the situation in Japan at the moment.  He was only transferring in Narita to head to China.

The flight was very long, but we were served three full meals and had a large selection of movies to watch, including newer films that I hadn’t watched yet.  I managed to fit about four movies in before the end of our flight.

13 hours is a long plane ride, and getting up and walking around and stretching was a saver.  The Iranian man next to us didn’t get up once, which amazed me, but I couldn’t stand sitting for more than four hours.  The only disappointment up until that point was that it was foggy outside by the time we got close to Japan.  And by foggy I mean fog so think you couldn't make anything out past the wing tip.

The scary part of the flight came at the end.  We had started our decent, the wheels had been deployed, and I watched the screen in front of me count down the miles until we reached the airport.  I’m not kidding when I say that I still couldn’t see anything.  The screen said 15 miles from landing, then 10, then 5, and one mile from landing the plane suddenly jerked up and started flying incredibly fast at an angle very unnatural for a plane.  Up and up and up we went, and my stomach flipped and I grabbed onto Mike’s hand as hard as I could and prayed that we weren’t crashing or going to die.  It turns out there was a plane on the runway, and the pilot had to pull up just as we were about to land.  It took us much longer to make the turn and go in the second time.  And I couldn’t see the ground until seconds before we landed.  One moment we were enveloped in fog, and the next, we were down.

Transferring from the plain to the train didn’t take too long, but both the Philadelphia plane and the Toronto plane had been delayed, so we didn’t get on the train until about 7pm.  It was a total of four hours down to Osaka, and we had to transfer at Tokyo, where a woman working the entrance get very impatient trying to explain to Dave what she needed to let him through.  And when I got onto the second train it was small, much smaller than the first one.  I bumped into a lot of people walking down the isle, and I had to shove my large suitcase up in between the seats.  Everyone stared.  It was so embarrassing, I just hid behind my luggage as best I could, haha.

We had to take two more trains before we reached our destination, and by then it was way pasted 11pm.  I had forgotten to bring the directions to the hostel, but I could remember the landmarks.  We were tired and hungry at this point, having been over 24 hours since we’d last slept, and Mike and Dave were getting cranky.  It started to rain and moods were sour, but I was determined to be like the women in the book I’d read, telling myself over and over that this was just an adventure, and I’d be laughing about it tomorrow.  I tried my best to remain in high spirits, smiling and laughing as the boys brooded and snapped behind me.  I made a wrong turn, but quickly corrected myself.  We got to the hostel after about 20 minuets after arriving.

It was closed.

The gates were down, it was pouring.  We were soaked.  I looked around.  It couldn’t be!  I had sent the owner an email only a few days ago telling him we would be late.  He had told me not to worry, to just enjoy my ride in and he would see me when we arrived.

The gates were closed, but there was a door to the side, and I reached for it and it opened.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  He had waited for us after all.


I was dark inside.  Empty.  The tables were shoved close together and no one sat at the desk.  The door had been unlocked, but we had eventually broken in.  I was quiet and disserted.  I grabbed Mikes phone to call the number I’d written down, but it just rang and rang inside the building.  No one was there, and with it pouring outside, we weren’t about to go back the way we’d come.

At this point I almost lost it.  With Mike and Dave making comments about me being stubborn and about how this trip already sucked, I had to duck into the bathroom to stop myself from breaking down in front of them.

This is not how I’d imagined it!  Hiro was supposed to be waiting, we had traveled for almost 48 hours straight and all I wanted to do was crash in a bed and sleep until 10am.  And I felt awful that I had talked the guys into coming.  We’d just arrived and they were already having a crappy time.  My upbeat ‘this is an adventure!’ feeling was not shared by my travel companions.

I refused, however, to let it ruin my trip.  I wasn’t going to snap back or be upset or get angry, and I absolutely refused to admit that I was having a terrible day.  I went back out to the guys and we agreed that at least we were out of the rain, and we weren’t on the streets.  I was a little worried that the police might show up and arrest us for breaking and entering, but I wasn’t about to head out and find another hotel at 12:30.  We settled in to a night of sleeping on the kitchen tables.

A few minuets went by, and we could hear people passing by outside.  Every noise I heard I braced myself for the police, until finally, the door opened, and in walked a Japanese girl.  She saw us and froze.

I immediately jumped up and smiled, and hoped she spoke some English, because I sure as heck didn’t know enough Japanese to explain what the three of us were doing.  “Hi, my name in Alisa and we have reservations.  I’d sent Hiro an email telling him we were going to be late, but we got here and no one was here!  The door was open so we came in to get out of the rain, I’m so sorry!”

She smiled, and nodded, and then spoke, in English, thank God.  She called Hiro to explain the situation and he sent someone over to set us up.  We apologized, they apologized, and I thanked the girl, who introduced herself as Izumi, over and over again.  We would finally get a bed to sleep in.

Once we got settled in I couldn’t sleep.  I was wired.  It had been too long since I’d slept, It had been too long since I’d eaten, and I was shaken up from the events that had lead up to us finally being able to lie down.

There was also a cat out the window who wouldn’t stop yowling every two hours or so.  I got about four hours of sleep before I woke up at 6:45 smelly and still pretty damp and in dire need of a shower.  So I got up and cleaned myself off and got dressed for the day.

I ended up feeling much better after my shower, and am very thankful that the book set me up to have a more positive attitude about our situation.  :D

Tomorrow: Day 3 and 4.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Japan: The Night Before

Hello everyone.  :)

Tonight has been pretty hectic, even with all the pre-packing I did so I wasn't rushed tonight.  There were a million little things I had to do last minuet, so I'm glad I didn't have to stay up super late to pack AND worry about the little things.

A couple of thoughts before tomorrow (although I probably won't be posting until Thursday, when I land in Japan I'll be a day ahead of everyone. That's thirteen hours ahead of my friends in NJ and sixteen hours ahead of my family in CA).  First of all, I'm excited, but I don't think it's really hit me yet that I'll be flying to Japan.  That I'll be in Japan.  That I'll be making friends and seeing everything I've dreamed of seeing for such a long time.

Secondly, I can't wait to bring my experiences to all of you on the other side of the world.  The pictures, videos and memories I write down will hopefully spark someone else's interest in visiting Japan, and I can't wait to show my students some of the amazing things there are in other countries.

I'm not there yet, but there are already so many people to thank. Everyone's kind, encouraging words, the excitement for me and my friends, I can't wait to come back with some great pictures!  I'd like to shout out a special thanks to Donna and Mr. Westberg, who have already made my trip super special for their kind offers.  And of course to Sensei Mike and Kim for letting me go trotting off around the globe.  :D

So now I leave you off with the last picture taken tonight.  Good night everyone!  See you on Thursday.  :D

                                                        Good Night!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Planning Stage 06: PACKING

So I started packing for Japan last night.  My roommate wanted to come.

 So I packed her up into the suitcase.  Goodbye Jennie!  See you in Japan!