The majority of the trip I would be staying with my Mom's friend Bonnie; which made me have free lodging and usually free dinner or breakfast when I was next to Tokyo. And I say next to Tokyo, because I was at Yokota air base. Staying here made for a very long commute back and forth to the city which made me comprehend the idea of a long commute; it took about 1 hour and 15 minutes every day to get into Tokyo. So the stay was free, but at the cost of time. Anyways she was very nice for accommodating me and making sure all was good to help for security as well. Those bases are on lock with machine gun and shotgun guards! Before I met her, I would have to get my JRail pass while various people helped me through customs and sanitation floor pads; they want healthy travelers.
The Japanese are quite polite: bow when they greet you, say goodbye, and want to help to make sure their efficiency stays high. On a different note, if you think NYC has some people traffic, Tokyo has about 4 Times Squares!!!
I would first ride the fancy express from Narita Airport to Tokyo station , a crazy station indeed! Then I took a regular rail to get to Yokota, where before meeting Bonnie, a drunk salaryman kept walking into me until I pushed him away. You can be drunk and do almost anything there. This was certainly one of my strangest, just landed in the country, moments.
Anyways, the following day I headed off to Kyoto for a few days. I rode the Shinkanshen there. Including in the ride is its own oddball commercial, conductor to check your ride, the bento box lady who has all kinds of gifts and toilets that are either fancy or holes in the floor. A thing about Japanese toilets, which everyone has to talk about at least once. The toilets are either the fanciest things ever with music, warming seats, different flush levels and bidets to clean yourself or they are slender holes in the floor in which you do standing squats to do your business. Both experiences are interesting to say the least.
I arrived in Kyoto and stayed in a hostel where I had to pay for both spots in the two person room. Though I wish I stayed with others as I hadn't fully figured out hostels yet. For example, my one in Rome had me with three other people in it: including an Australian who taught strange english to Italian kids or my Peruvian hostel with lots of women in it. In the hostel I noticed that there are no door close buttons on elevators in Japan; again nice people. While traveling in Kyoto I took surveys, tried to take pictures of Pichinko, the odd gambling game where you get gifts for yen, that the Yakuza run; see kids bug catching, people carrying geishas on rikshaws, and buddhist monks praying for food or money. I also see the following shrines: The silver pavilion, which has a nicer area than the golden one, though the golden building is obviously awesome, Ryukiji zen temple, Nijo-jo; an awesome old school ninja castle with Nightingale floorboards (see Throne of Blood to see it in a film), a moat and tea ceremonies, the temple with 1,000 buddhas, and the temple with the sacred waters where Japanese girls took pictures of me while a dad solicited his daughter to me - odd (it's my picture on gmail btw). I also had the best ramen ever, Japanese fast food for the salaryman on the go, Okonaimyo; this cuttlefish pancake at a place open from 10pm to 6am yeah that....and I met some cool Canadians. This would be the last time I met foreign travelers and didn't facebook with them. Kyoto overall was a chill walkable city with amazing temples and very similar to Florence and Cusco.
While I was down there, I headed over to Nara, the first capital of Japan, to check out several sights. Here I saw the Todaiji temple with the huge buddha, some of the pagodas and shrines. By the way, for shrines the traditional way to enter is to wash both of your hands before entering. Then I went over to basically a full on traditional temple set-up. I don't remember the name to that temple, but it's on my Facebook pictures. To get to Nara requires a system of trains and buses that is a bit complicated so just ask the kind Japanese people how to do it. Also over in Kyoto, I made my way to Hiroshima, yes that Hiroshima. This was the most sobering experience I've ever had while traveling. Yes, I know what happened on my birthday years ago, but honestly the dedication to that moment from this city is phenomenal. You've got paper cranes near the train station (Sadako), you've got a children's memorial, traditional memorial, Koreans who died in Japan memorial, and the unknown memorial. At the traditional memorial, I have this great picture of an old lady praying and I can only imagine what that day was like as she was there for that. At the children's memorial (Sadako), the children sang a song in remembrance that made me cry. Another relic outside is the dome - the only building surviving from before the bomb as the bomb exploding right above it, people put water outside of it because it's what the people were crying for after the extreme radiation and heat exposure on their melting bodies. Also the kids were very happy to see a foreigner (gaijin) and wanted to speak english with me. Apparently, as I learned later from a Hiroshima guy in Seattle, Americans don't go to Hiroshima often. WTF! people it's a bit of a trek, but honestly you need to go to see how far our country that you may love will go for dominance. Meanwhile, the Hiroshima museum itself is great at 50 cents for a ticket and an alarming amount of watches at 8:15am; when the bomb dropped. There are also replicas from that time of how Hiroshima looked and when the bomb hit. Thus, Japan is very anti-nuclear or atomic warheads since they know the damage they can do. Just off of Hiroshima is Miyajima Island, where I met an english man on the way and saw a wedding come down from the top, ladies climbing rocks in heels -this is common in Japan- more free roaming deer -like Nara- and the sinking Torii; which changes with the tide & by nightfall you can't get near it. There was also some guy who definitely blocked me from chatting to this pretty Japanese girl who was staring at me. Either way, it's a gorgeous mountain with some jokes on how far you have to travel on there. Speaking on that, on the way, Japanese girls and an Osaka salaryman took pictures with us again ( shashins or pictures). This is where the internationally attractive appearance starts to really set in with me as well.
Eventually I would come back to Tokyo which I'll explain in the next post as the first week in Nihon was done.