Saturday, October 27, 2012

Japan...or where I coughed my way to Nagasaki

In Korea, their version on Thanksgiving is at the end of September. It's a bit different than American thanksgiving. While they do spend the majority of the day eating lots of food, it's also the day they hold  memorial services/rites/rituals and pray for/to their ancestors or deceased parents/grandparents. (I'm not entirely sure, but one of my students says she and her mom don't like praying to her ancestors because she's Catholic and her dad isn't and they must, so I think they do pray to their ancestors.)

Well, we had a 3 day weekend, which never happens, so Ben and I decided to go visit Elaine in Japan.

Naturally, I got sick about 2 days before we left.

We intended to leave bright and early Saturday morning, but there was an error when we booked our tickets and somehow we ended up on a 2PM plane on Saturday. But that was ok, since Fukuoka, the airport near Elaine, is less than an hour by plane.

We arrived at customs and they asked for Elaine's address. I didn't know that. (Thinking back, that did seem like information I should have had.) So, they asked us for Elaine's name. She wasn't in the system. So they asked me for her birthday. I didn't know it. Well, I had an approximate guess, which turned out to be correct, but I wasn't sure. Somehow, without any information except the city we were staying in, we made it through customs.

Elaine told us about a train pass we could get that was 100 dollars for 3 days, which was a great deal. Trains (and everything else) in Japan are very expensive. About 100 in each direction, so it was quite the deal. The pass was only for tourists, so Elaine can't get the same pass.

The lady at the help desk was very helpful and spoke English very well. When we got our pass and went back to her to ask for directions to the train station, she said "Congratulations!"
We got on the train to Kumamoto, where Elaine lives. It was a bullet train, so only took about an hour. Elaine met us at the station. I'd asked earlier where we should meet her exactly, and she just said "We'll find each other." I'd forgotten Seoul Station is a huge train station and hers would be pretty small, so we didn't need to plan exactly where to meet.

We took a pictures with Kumamon, the bear mascot of Kumamoto, then took the tram to Elaine's apartment.
The first place in Japan we walked through was a large shopping area. It was very long and stretched for a long time in both directions. There was a lot of Japanese writing of course. Japanese is a mixture of Chinese characters and Japanese letters, which is not possible for me to read. Korean is extremely easy to read. You can learn it in a day or two if you really want to, so I felt a little lost. Luckily I had Elaine there, who also can't read Japanese. And luckily she had her friend join us for dinner who does read Japanese, so he could order food for us.

We dropped off our stuff and went to dinner. We ate the best food I have ever had in my life. It is hard to explain how amazing everything was, but it was incredibly. Expensive of course, but incredible.
This was salty and seasoned fabulously.
These are mandu/dumplings. They were great.
This is raw horse. I was rather horrified about eating this. Ben was as well, since he had horses as pets. Elaine said, "I know, I would never eat this in the states, but you have to try it. It's delicious."

And it was. It was chewy but so delicious. I was feeling guilty about eating it, yet continued to eat it.
Then we had various raw fishes that just melted in your mouth unlike any other fish I've eaten before.

There were these chicken and pork kebabs (obviously not kebabs, but I'm not sure their name) with a delicious mustard.
These rolls.

We also had shrimp with Japanese mayonnaise on top that I don't have a picture of, but was also fabulous.

Japanese mayonnaise is so delicious, mostly likely due to the MSG that is in it. Not joking...

We then met up with some of Elaine's coworkers and wandered around Kumamoto.

This is the view from Elaine's apartment.

We then went to sleep in Elaine's awesome apartment. It has a room that is very tradition Japanese, which is where we had our sleepover.

We decided to go to Nagasaki the next day to visit the Atomic Bomb Museum.

We took a fairly early train, but decided to walk by Kumamoto Castle that morning, since it's close to where Elaine lives.

We saw this cool door.
Here's the small building along the wall across the street from the castle.
Here's the castle.
Here I am with Ben and my crazy looking hair.
Here I am with Elaine. My hair looks a bit less crazy.
Ben and Elaine.
Apparently, you could get your picture taken.
We arrived at the gate to the castle just in time for some Samurais/actors to yell at us then open the gate.
The castle through some trees.
A statue.
We then headed to the train station, bought some food in a box, then got on the train to Nagasaki. I ate
The view from the train was great. When we were originally on the train to Kumamoto, Ben and I both thought that it looked exactly like Korea, but luckily, we could see on this trip that it is very different.

We had to transfer once to get to Nagasaki.

On the second train, which was about 90 minutes, I started coughing. And coughing. And coughing.

I didn't stop coughing for almost the entire trip. I was coughing so hard. There were a few moments that I thought I was going to vomit from coughing so hard, but luckily that didn't happen. That would have been embarrassing. I felt very bad for the other people on the train, but there was really nothing that I could do about it.

Luckily, it mostly stopped by the time we reached Nagasaki, only to return in the Atomic Bomb museum where everyone was solemn and quiet.

First picture in Nagasaki. It was an interesting layout of houses.
We took a taxi to the top of the hill overlooking Nagasaki, because it was going to cost the same as the bus somehow.

Taxi drivers are all dressed up in Japan, have a little button that they press and the door opens and the taxis are adorable.
The view from the top of the mountain was great.

It was a bit windy.

By a bit windy, I mean very windy. So, here are a few more pictures of me in Japan with crazy hair.

We then walked down the hill to the bus stop, which we knew we'd find since there was just one bus.

We saw these stairs and thought, "Oh it would be a great idea to walk down those!"

Well, really, it was more of a, "well, let's see where these go!"
They lead to an overgrown meadow that probably had poisonous snakes there.

The stairs continued down this path, but we decided it looked a bit too much like the path in Lord of the Rings that the Ringwraiths come down, or a path in some Anime movie that Ben and Elaine had seen. I don't know which is more nerdy.

But, we decided not to continue down the path because it was scary.
We took some pictures first using the timer on my camera.
I was attacked by Ben and Elaine in the 2nd attempt.
The third worked better.
We then headed back to the main street.
Before getting to the bus stop, we saw a mini-zoo. There were some reindeer(?)

and monkeys.

And that was it.
We then got on the bus. The buses there worked differently. You take a ticket with a number that corresponds to the sign. Then, under the ticket number there's the price of the ticket, which increases the further you go and you pay when you get off the bus. You also pay when you get off the tram, not on, but Elaine says everyone's honest and would probably yell at you if you tried to jump off the bus/tram early.
We then headed to the lunch (sushi-yumm!) and to the Atomic Bomb Museum. I will write about the atomic bomb museum in a later post. T

This was a statue outside the museum.

You had to put your ticket through this ticket counter in order to get into the museum. The giant space on the other side sort of defeated the purpose, but you still had to.

We read online that you could buy ice cream at the end of the museum and that you would need it, which was true.

So we bought ice cream and sat in the park.

We then walked around the park near the museum, called Nagasaki Peace Park. It's used to commemorate the people who died in the bomb as a reminder not to use atomic bombs ever again

Elaine photobombing.

There was a very necessary escalator (not) that even moved during the flat portions of the hill.

The fountain is to remember the people who died searching for water and is a dedication to world peace. Part of the inscription is from a poem written by someone who was 9 at the time of the bombings. It says, "I was thirsty beyond endurance. There was something oily on the surface of the water, but I wanted water so badly that I drank it just as it was."

The park was near the hypocenter of the bomb. This is the foundation of the prison that was completely brought to it's foundation during the bombing and all the people inside, including foreign prisoners.

The Mario Brothers also were visiting the Peace Park.

Well, we think they were a boy band, because that man in the front was filming them looking reverently at the Peace Statue.

This is the Peace Statue.

Here we are with the reverent Marios in the background.

The no pooping sign.

We had a couple hours left before taking the train back, so we headed to Chinatown. It was the only thing open and also awesome. And the oldest Chinatown in Japan.
There were 4 of these tables at each corner of Chinatown. You could get a "passport" stamped at each table. I stamped mine wrong, so my phoenix was sideways.

Notice the tail that is stuck throw it's head.

Souvenir shop.

There were some children carrying a dragon.

Another table.
Some lobster.
This is just horrifying.

We walked around the waterfront at night as well.

The waterfront was very beautiful and had very lovely restaurants along the water.
We then headed back to Kumamoto, after buying some cough medicine, so I wouldn't cough my way back on the train. It was strange cough medicine. It tasted like brown sugar, but for the most part worked and I didn't keep Ben and Elaine awake all night.

We were a bit exhausted, but got dinner when we got back.

We had some Japanese Ramen, which is so much better than any Ramen you've ever eaten. It's creamy and delicious. I highly recommend it.

Afterwards, we played some speed scrabble then went to bed.

The next day, we wandered around Kumamoto, which I will write about in my next blog post.

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