After the morning routine, we set out for Himeji (JR Kobe from one end to the other), a city west of Kobe, to see Himeji Castle, since Mrs. Fujikura thought the fact that it remains intact in its original form made it more impressive than Osaka Castle.
After eating kushi-katsu (little hot dogs, potatoes, onions, lotus root, quail eggs, and a sardine each fried on a skewer, served with little bowls of rice and udon) at a restaurant in the station, we took a long bus ride to the Mt. Shosha ropeway, a cable car that goes up to Engyouji Temple. Apparently scenes of The Last Samurai were filmed at both Engyouji and Himeji-jou. Anyway, it was certainly pretty, but the steep roads didn't mix well with the 100 degree weather; I was drenched in sweat. :O After we came down, we got back on the bus for Himeji-jou, but apparently there's a famous garden called Kouko-en on the western end of it, so we visited there and went to the tea garden to have maccha and a manjuu (bitter green tea and a sweet red bean treat), but it was kind of uncomfortable since being I gaijin I can't do seiza
(sitting with one's legs folded straight under them) and I was starting to get a massive headache. Half of that though I could tell was dehydration, so we found the nearest vending machine and after pounding an entire bottle of water, I felt quite a bit better. At last, we went to Himeji-jou, which was certainly magnificent. I can't really put any of these sights into words, but I'll upload most of my pictures to Facebook later on.
Back at Himeji station, we had a delicious meal at a nice Chinese restaurant, and made our journey back to Toyonaka.Day 5:
On Sunday, we went out to explore Kobe. Upon getting off at Sannomiya (Hankyu Kobe), I cannot for the life of me remember what we did first. I don't have any pictures, and if I could remember even where we ate lunch, the rest would probably fall into place, but at any rate, it was probably mostly shoutengai
window shopping, hehe. At some point we ended up at Kitano-chou, an area that has a lot of 19th-century Western-style houses (ijinkan), not to mention foreigners and international schools. We climbed up a big staircase behind the most famous house, Kazamidori no Yakata, to a shrine on a hill which you could see a good view of the heart of Kobe from.
We hoofed it back to the station and took the train a few stops back to Shukugawa, to meet Ayumi at a yakiniku restaurant called Naritaya. For some reason which I didn't catch though, we had to split from Mrs. Fujikura for a moment, so in order to have us get there in time for the reservation, she explained the route there to Mikako, but all I heard was the name of the place. Should've had her explain it to me too, because we ended up getting confused two blocks from it and calling from a pay phone, ha. Anyway, Ayumi found us quickly and then we all walked there together. Ayumi and I exchanged gifts when we sat down; she gave me a box of really elaborate-looking senbei in the shape of okonomiyaki which I haven't opened yet and a paper globe that expands by blowing air into it, both of which were really cool, I thought. The neatest thing of all though, was the little letter she gave me. Honestly, it was so delicate and pretty, complete with a tiny paper crane attached to it. I was glad I got it home without crushing it.
It was my first time eating at a yakiniku restaurant (where your table has a grill set into or on top of it and you get strips of marinated beef to make and eat), and man was it delicious. Of course, I had no idea what was to come two days later, but this place was still great and had a higher-class atmosphere. Plus it's a really fun and social kind of meal to eat. Afterwards we walked to a coffee shop where we met Mr. and Mrs. Isoyama and all sat and talked. I was really tired, and this was one of the times I remember my Japanese being particularly clumsy. But it was kind of difficult; I was trying to keep track of the conversation flying from how many directions, and once in a while some comment about me would actually be a question *for* me and I'd feel embarrassed. When I mentioned that after, Mrs. Fujikura said not to worry, since everyone was tired and this was sort of a final thing before going home. Which would also explain Mr. Isoyama lack of smiles, haha. He seemed like an okay guy otherwise though, and he drove us back to Shukugawa station.Day 6:
Onto the day when I mastered the Japanese mass transit system. :D
Today the idea was that I would not only have to go alone to a place farther away, I'd have to return on my own too. It was certainly a challenge, and I can't say I wasn't nervous, but at the end of the day, I felt that I understood Japanese subways, trains, and busses well enough to get anywhere. 'Course when I get to Tokyo I'm going to have to learn all new names (well, I know some of the more famous ones, but still) for lines and stops, not to mention that there are a lot more of them and if I recall what Mrs. Fujikura said correctly, they can be stacked up as far down as 60m underground...but I'm confident that I'm prepared enough to figure it out at any rate. :) This was actually one of the most important parts of the trip, I think.
At any rate, I'd already known how to get to Umeda, but my host family (as usual, sans Mr.) did come with me so that I knew how to properly walk from Hankyu Umeda station to Tanimachi Higashi-Umeda station, from which point I was on my own. It was only three stops to Tanimachi 4-choume, the 9th exit of which is smack-dab in front of the Osaka Museum of History, our first destination. I ran into Paula right away, and we stood around talking in the stairwell (avoiding the deadly sun :O) while we waited for Ms. Hayashi. The tree of us went to the museum, which was really pretty neat actually; had elaborate scenes of each period of Osaka's history. Two highlights were the currency-exchange exhibit where you had use a balance to weigh old money (fake, but still) since Osaka and Tokyo used different currencies in the past (apparently the ryou
used in Goemon is actually the old currency of Tokyo!), and these puzzles you could put together, one which became a jar (you'll see the picture). After the three exhibit floors, we ate in the restaurant on the first floor, where I had katsu-hayashi (hayashi rice with tonkatsu), which I can't explain very well, but it was tasty.
Next we walked over to Osaka-jou, which despite being rebuilt with concrete and having an elevator put in is really beautiful. Not a whole lot I can say about it though.
When we returned to the station, it was only around 2:30, and my family wasn't expecting me back 'til 6:30. Ms. Hayashi went her own way, but Paula was interested in going to Yodobashi Camera to buy a laptop since she had just gotten to Japan a week earlier and hadn't bought one before coming, so I went along. I figured out the way back to Umeda easily, and with a small amount of trial and error made it to the store. Japanese department stores always amaze me. While America is a land of family restaurants and such with a wide variety of food and Japanese restaurants tend to focus on one special item only, department stores are totally different. I don't think ones with less than 6 floors exist. Yodobashi in Umeda
has 10: one with all computers, one all computer supplies, one all cameras, one with TVs and DVD players, one video games and toys, one CDs and DVDs, three floors of clothing, and the dining floor. And on top of all that is a three-story parking garage. Ha.
On the computer floor, you've got rows of desktops and laptops streching down as far as you can see. At an American computer store, I would expect to find probably three different desktops of each of five different brands, perhaps, but ha, this isn't America. Anyway, she too was overwhelmed, and after she picked up a bunch of pamphlets regarding different brands, we went to an internet cafe that was connected to the store, since she thought she might just order a Dell after all. It was really funny as we were sitting in there though, 'cause we were talking in English while listening to American music; I had to do a double-take to figure out where I was at one point, hahaha.
After that we each went our own ways, and when I reached the house, it was only 4:00, so everyone was just going out to run errands! Luckily I caught them just out in front, so they opened the door for me. Dunno what I'd've done had I been a few minutes later. Anyway, it was nice just sitting down, watching TV, drinking cold water, and having a fan blowing on my face, haha. After they returned, we had dinner at home. The only time we ate a meal other than breakfast at home, hehe, but for some reason I can't remember what the main course was... >_< We had corn on the cob though :D One of my favorite things, but I didn't expect to have it in Japan!
After dinner I went by myself to Book Off, a used book and CD shop within walking distance of the apartment. I had fun looking through the CD section although there wasn't much I wanted to buy, but I got one just 'cause they were cheap, so even though it actually isn't very good, s'not much loss, hehe. Did find some good books though. I was looking for book two of Daarin wa Gaikokujin
, which they didn't have, but they did have Daarin no Atamannaka
(Inside Darling's Mind), which looks really good anyway (and was only Y350), about Tony's (and Saori's, probably) thoughts on English and languages. I had earlier told Mrs. Fujikura that I was looking for Daarin 2, and she said she'd had most of her books and enjoyed them, but gave them to Ayumi. When I told her I was going to Hawai'i though, she brought out a few books she had bought before the times she'd gone there, and one was Oguri's Hawai de Dai no Ji
, which she let me keep! I was excited. :D Anyhow, also at the bookstore, I found a manga guide to the characters and special moves of Naruto for Joey, and also Legend of Zelda manga, which I couldn't pass up! (Each was Y105 too!) I figured I could give the Zelda one to someone too, but seeing as I can't think of anyone to give it to at the moment (no other friends around here have any intention of learning more Japanese), I don't mind keeping it to read myself. :D Maybe I'll give it to someone later on.
I got back from the store around 9:15 or so, and we all probably talked or watched TV for a while before taking showers and hittin' the sack.