What I did in Japan + a Hint of Thailand
Warning: this post is way longer than anticipated! Apparently I did a lot in Japan!
While I’ve effectively written two posts about Japan, both have fallen into the “musings + reflections” category, potentially leaving you to wonder what I actually did in that great country. I’ve been in Thailand two weeks now which means it seems like absolutely ages ago that I lived in Kyoto, but I will do my best to give you a quick synopsis of my Japanese experience.
That said, before I jump into activities, I realize I haven't shared my apartment video yet and I've heard that's something people enjoy seeing so I wanted to throw it up front. Somehow, I got one of the two lucky apartments that were 30m² instead of 18m², so I was a spoiled little girl this month, but I paid my dues and hosted two movie nights.
My tracks in Japan were on point. They were a beautiful combination of sightseeing, learning about the city, and understanding smaller, but important parts of Japanese culture.
In my first track I made my own hanko. A hanko is a small, marble stamp that Japanese people carry with them at all times and use as their signature. As a child, your hanko is your family name, but when you come of age it switches to your first name. Yuki helped me pick my stamp by giving me some options for words that also begin with the soft “A” that my name starts with. In the end, I chose the word “apricot” (杏) which is pronounced “Apurikotto” in Japanese according to Google Translate. I love it! I don’t know why a noun for a tiny, fuzzy fruit resonates with me so much, but it does and I'm a very proud apricot.
Our second track was taiko drumming. I feel like I don’t have to say much about this experience for you to already know how awesome banging on giant drums for three hours was. Our instructor was one of the few professional female taiko drummers and she, her pupils, and colleagues demonstrated amazing skill and precision while attempting to help us emulate the same. While I initially thought this activity would let me work through any pent-up aggression, it instead reminded me how much I enjoy playing music and how nice it is to find it in different forms on the road.
Finally, our full day event involved a trip to Miyama which is one of two remaining traditional farmhouse villages with thatched roofs. Before we set out to see the houses, we were treated to lunch where we were taught how to make our own rice balls and an attempted instruction on how to properly use chopsticks. This lunch ended up being the random highlight of my Japanese tracks experience as was our extremely energetic tour guide who showed us around Miyama after lunch. He gregariously shouted Japanese to a sea of blank faces explaining the history of the beautiful village, the laborious process of replacing the thatched roofs, and why he loves this community so much (fortunately we had Yuki to translate). It started snowing as soon as we arrived which was fun not just because it was two mangos' first time experiencing snow, but also because it made the village superbly picturesque.
All the Other Things...
One of the ladies in our group – the loving, charismatic, enthusiastic, ball of positive energy Jillian – has a wardrobe unlike any I’ve seen back in the States, much less while traveling the world for a year. She brought with her no less than five wigs, 15 pairs of colored sunglasses, funky streetwear, classy boutique finds, and neon colored Adidas sneakers. Wanting to fill our group with even more love and joy, she decided to host a photoshoot one Friday afternoon for the mango ladies. We tried on every single piece of clothing she owned and found fun outfits for each other. To top it off, Jillian’s best friend and professional photographer, Jessica, was visiting so she snapped some fun shots of us girls being silly on the streets of Kyoto. What I love most about the shoot is that you now get to see some of my best remote gal pals!
Biking & Touring
As mentioned in my last post, I spent a lot of time on my bike this month. I biked down to the Shinto gates with Meagan followed by a visit to the “most beautiful” Starbucks in the world (it’s not, you just sit on the floor). I took a Sunday to myself and biked to see the annual coming-of-age archery competition at a temple with 1,000 buddhist sculptures followed by a stop by a 5-storied temple I had read about that morning in Memoirs of a Geisha (more on that in a minute). I biked to the Golden Temple along the river and then to Dominos – an essential part to the conclusion of that day. And I biked home every night between 1:00 – 2:00am after I finished working. It was always cold and sometimes wet, but it’s a unique feeling to know a city by night when the stores have closed and everyone else is home in their warm (tiny) beds.
A Hospital Visit
I also did all this with serious knee pain that has sadly still not subsided or been officially diagnosed. While one never wants to go to a doctor/hospital abroad, I must say that I am always intrigued by foreign medical care. Japan surprised me, and not in the way I anticipated. I first went to a hospital to see an orthopedic doctor and the second I walked in I thought “if I wasn’t sure before, I am very confident now that Japan has a socialist healthcare system.” Lots and lots of people, lots and lots of lines. I waited about one hour in the main waiting room before being ushered into another waiting room where I waited another two hours before seeing the doctor for about 5 minutes, being given an x-ray, told that nothing was broken, and being prescribed pain killers. I then waited another 45 minutes to pay the bill. I didn’t feel my experience here in any way reflected the Japanese culture I had come to appreciate. On the other hand, I saw another doctor two weeks later at a private office and had a much different experience, so I suppose, like the States, it all comes down to where you go and who you see.
As previously hinted at, the Book Club book I selected for this month was Memoirs of a Geisha. I was a little worried the choice was a bit of a cliché due to its popularity, but I remembered my sister (whose book recommendations I take seriously) mentioning I should read it sometime ago and now seemed like as good a time as any. What I didn’t realize when I chose the book was that it is not only set in Japan, but in Kyoto! My friend Griffin and I were the two who read Memoirs while in Japan (book clubbers usually include a combination of me, Meagan, or Griffin these days – quality not quantity) and we were consistently excited to talk about how amazing it was that we were able to connect pieces of newly learned Kyoto knowledge with parts of the book. For example, when the geisha Chiyo offers her virginity to interested men, she bequeaths them with a small pastry – the same intricate confections we had made in a cooking class and saw on street corners every day. Not to mention we were able to recognize street names and the neighborhood she lived in. An unexpected special experience all around.
I’m not a foodie and I take pride in that. I grocery shop as much as possible and avoid eating out whenever I can, although I usually have enough dinners on the town that I’m able to try the local cuisine. That said, I was very excited to sign up for a sushi making class and this, in turn, led to another little highlight of my time in Japan. The class was made up of seven girls and our trusty cultural attaché, Yuki, who, per usual, was also our translator. We gathered one morning and went to the house of a sushi chef who really just seemed like a cool mom who was good at making sushi which was fine with us. The seven of us had a ball trying different combinations of ingredients and failing miserably at sealing our overly-stuffed rolls.
After this morning of tasty fun, three of us committed to a lunch date reunion at one of the better sushi restaurants in Kyoto called AWOMB where you have to make a reservation at least a week in advance. While I was skeptical of eating at a restaurant that required such prior notice, it ended up being a truly unique, yummy experience unlike any other and cost a relatively reasonable $35. As you can see in the photos, they gave us pre-combined flavors that we could turn into handrolls. Thank goodness we had taken the class or we would have struggled!
After lunch, I stepped back and thought about what a different type of experience AWOMB had been for me and decided that maybe I could become a "strategic" foodie going forward – possibly trying to hit up restaurants for lunch instead of dinner (which saves big $$), but emerging myself in local food culture more than I have before. With that in mind, I went to try Kobe beef for lunch the following week. While I immediately pulled a pre-foodie Anneka and went for the $15 lunch set, everyone else at the table was there to go all in and get the more expensive meal (I can’t say how much it cost because my mother will never speak to me again if she knew). Looking in my wallet, I realized I had a ton of cash left on me that I would need to spend in the next 24 hours as we were leaving the next day, so I embraced my newfound persona and decided to join the group! My foodie status after that meal: I'm now a "I-can-be-a-foodie-as-long-as-it-costs-less-than-$50-which-is-still-kind-of-pushing-it-because-my-palette-just-isn't-that-advanced-and-doesn't-need-to-be" foodie.
A Hint of Thailand
Well that was quite a bit more about Japan than I was planning to write, so my quick overview of Thailand thus far is that:
- Warm weather = happy weather.
- A 12 hour time difference is easier than 14 when you work part East Coast hours.
- Riding a motor bike in this city is terrifying. I may have ended up wasting $78 on an impulse bike rent for the month.
- I live in a one bedroom apartment by myself aka the lap of luxury minus the nightclub that goes till 1:00am and the rooster that wakes up at 5:30am.
- I never need to see another temple again.
Ok, Just a Few More Pictures
Oh hi! You're still here! Thanks for sticking around. You officially win the "I read Anneka's longest post" award. Congratulations! Your prize is that you get even MORE photos of my Japanese adventure. It felt like most of my time in Japan involved working super late hours, waking up at 10:00am and watching the Marvelous Mrs Maisel while eating strawberry flavored chocolates on my couch-turned-chaise lounge, but according to my camera roll that wasn't all I did.