Sunday, 5 April 2009

Genghis Kong vs. X-Box Live

Okay, so to quickly finish off the episode of my family coming to visit in as short a time as possible: We had a really cool time in Tokyo, then Oli went back to England. Mum and Dad and I then went off on another jaunt round central and western Honshu following a similar, although slightly different, general itinerary to mine and Oli's trip - Kyoto first, then Nara, Himeji and finally Hiroshima. Even though I had just been around most of those places with Oli, we stayed in different areas and went to see different sights so I still had a really interesting time. Of course, travelling with the parents meant that I was also eating extremely well and staying in relative luxury, which was wonderful (especially in comparison to the rather small and damp apartment/bedroom/hovel I live in in Tokyo).

3 Highlights of my trip with Mum and Dad:

1. The Dattan Matsuri festival in Nara.
By pure coincidence we arrived in Nara on the last day of a 2-week long festival, which ends with a dramatic closing ceremony. We were, unfortunately, clueless to this fact and very nearly missed the whole thing, except that when we asked the Ryokan staff to serve us our dinner at 7pm they turned to one another and muttered something about "They're not going to the festival? Are you sure? They're really not going up to the temple?". Eventually we discovered that there was this event going so we rescheduled dinner for earlier and after eating we all but ran the 2 miles or so uphill through the park to try and catch the festival. Even so, we arrived just as it was ending, and only caught the last few moments of what must have been a spectacular sight.

The ceremony consists of the monks lighting on fire several enormous 8-metre long torches and then running circuits around the temple veranda with them while crowd of pilgrims/tourists (the line between these two categories is extremely blurred) is gathered below. It is a festival for the protection of children, I think, but anyway it is considered lucky if the falling cinders land on your child's head, so the onlooking worshippers actively try to catch falling fire using their children's faces.

I'm afraid I didn't get any good photos of it myself, but here's a stock photo from the internet to give you an idea of what it looked like:
The next day we went back up to the temple and collected little bits of burnt cedar from the torches for luck - I've got one attached to my phone!

2. Himeji Castle.
As I think I mentioned in my last post, Himeji is just an awesome sight. Really, truly beautiful and magnificent and breathtaking. What really makes the visit though is the volunteer guides that show you around. Without them it would be impressive, and a great photo opportunity, but the guides show you the intricacies of the design and the ingenious strategic devices built into the castle layout to deter intruders, and all kinds of extra little background information. That said, I noticed that the two different guides I had gave us entirely different tours filled with entirely different little nuggets of wisdom and tidbits of information, some of which directly contradicted each other or even directly contradicted the information plaques around the castle!

So a fascinating tour, but not neccessarily a strictly factual one.

Incidentally, anyone hoping to visit Himeji in the near future: do it this summer, because after this year it is undergoing massive restoration work to the main keep and will be closed and under scaffolding for 5 years. You have been warned.

3. Hiroshima
Hiroshima was pretty amazing, but for completely different reasons. Despite all the hilariously tasteless jokes I might make about the bombs (I was going to change my name on facebook to Hereward 'A-Bomb' Feldwick before I went, ho ho), actually visiting Hiroshima was a deeply affecting and sobering experience. We actually spoke to some A-Bomb survivors about their experiences which was rather grim and harrowing, and it is shoking to think how recent and how utterly devastating it was. Seeing the A-Bomb dome and feeling first-hand the blast marks where the heat waves from the bomb had caused gravestones to shatter really brought it home and made it seem much more real.

Top bit in Hiroshima? Seeing groups of smiling American tourists posing for photos in front of the Cenotaph - the mass grave for all the unrecorded victims of the Hiroshima bombing. Something about that scene just struck me as remarkably tasteless. I mean, in their defense I think it was their Japanese friend actually taking the picture for them, so it seems to be a collective obliviousness to possible deeper layers of meaning shared by Japanese and Americans alike. I think to most people it's just another tourist spot to tick off the list and get the photo.

Again, my photography around Hiroshima wasn't really up to much, so here is someone else's photo of the A-Bomb Dome for you to consider:

So anyway, after a few more days in Tokyo my parents went back home to England and I was left to get on with the ordinary humdrum everyday business of living in Tokyo. You know: wake up, wash, eat, go to the gym, eat, look at facebook, eat, have some beers, watch the Daily Show, eat, sleep and repeat ad nauseam. The most exciting developments in my life over the last couple of weeks have been my first tentative steps into horticulture and my purchase of a Super Nintendo.

I'm growing some tomato and chili plants from seed. It's all terribly exciting. They're living in eggboxes on my windowsill at the moment, soaking up as much sun as their little tiny leaves are able. I'm optimistic that I might start getting actual fruits from them before I have to go back to England, which will be a great thrill! Okay, this may not sound exciting to most of you, but considering I've been middle aged since the age of about 13 the idea of growing my own vegetables is honestly the very peak of excitement for me. Once I've got my own house and garden I'm going to grow all manner of vegetables and I'm going to keep half a dozen ducks for eggs and meat. I've already got it all planned out: house, wife, 4 kids, vegetable patch, ducks, lots of cats, maybe even a dog.

I also bought a Super Nintendo, and it is honestly the very finest purchase I have made for a very long time. In my opinion, it is immeasurably more fun than any of the new hi-tech machines that everyone raves about these days. I mean, so what if you've got the most advanced first-person shooter or the most realistic driving simulator in the world - I've got Super Metroid and F-Zero, and they're awesome! You can take your X-Box Live and shove it up your arse.

Right - I'd better go to bed. Once again I didn't manage to write what i had been planning to. What I had meant to write about was the enormous penis festival I went to today, but I got all caught up recapping events up to that moment. I have my placement test for Semester 2 tomorrow morning and I don't want to stay up too late writing, so that tale will have to wait for another time - hopefully not long.

Here's a little teaser for you:

So I'll leave you with that.

Wish me luck on my exam!


Thi said...

Found this interesting blog when I was blogwalking.. Keep writing..!
Hope you're plants will grow up well...

Barto said...

I can't wait to hear more about the penis festival. It looks tremendous/terrifying.

Hope your chillies are doing well. I want to start growing a herb garden. It would probably be quite an easy thing to start, if I wasn't so damned lazy.