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Nagoya and Hakone

Posted by Shaun

My winter break has finally begun, so hopefully I can catch up on this blog again. I get two weeks for Christmas and New Years, and then I'm back to finish the semester. Then I have spring break for February and March. I'm not sure I understand this school system.

I've been on two trips outside of Tokyo recently. The first was going to Nagoya to see my sister, and the second was to Hakone to go to a hot springs resort with Japan Study. There will also be some other stuff interspersed throughout. I'm afraid there isn't going to be a coherent narrative this time, because I really just don't want to get anymore behind, but hopefully it will still be interesting.

We'll start with Harajuku, where I went (again) with one of my friends to do some shopping the day before Nagoya. Harajuku was made famous in the US by Gwen Stefani's Harajuku Girls song and American anime fan's fascination with Japanese street fashion trends. Harajuku is an area of Tokyo really popular with young people. Apparently it used to be a big place where people would gather to show off their outlandish outfits on Sundays, but I've heard that a lot of that has moved to nearby Yoyogi Park or something because police found it to be a nuisance? Anyway, it's not the freak circus it's made out to be by a lot of street fashion and anime fans who have never been there. Sure, you occasionally see people in gothic lolita fashion or something, but it's mostly just teenagers. You see more school uniforms than anything, even on Sundays. Of course, not every woman/girl dressed in a school uniform in Japan is necessarily school-aged or wearing their school's uniform, but that's a story for another day.
The reason why I keep finding myself in Harajuku is because it's one place you can get cheap clothes and accessories. I took a picture of these bathroom signs at an all-you-can-eat dessert restaurant called Sweets Paradise. All I did was stop in to use the bathroom, since it was attached to the food court where I ate.

If I'm a dude and a cutie, which bathroom do I use? What if I'm a girl who plays electric guitar?

And onward to Nagoya.

I took the shinkansen (新幹線 - new main line), commonly called the bullet train in English. I rode it several times when I was in Japan before with Japan Term. It's expensive, but it's like everything good about flying with all the bad parts taken out. It's fast, it's quiet, no one really disturbs you, you've got leg room, there's no TSA, and if you take the slowest one, like I did, there's a coupon that comes with a free drink voucher. 
There's even a Starbucks in the waiting room. It was so hard to not buy coffee. But I managed.

I bought these instead. Japan likes to make bizarre variations on snacks that were just fine the way they are, like these Lemon Ice flavor mini Oreos. They... did taste like lemon ice, but that's not really what I want out of my Oreos.

Mt. Fuji as seen from the window of the shinkansen, surrounded by these nice pink clouds.
I arrived at Nagoya station, and my sister's host family surprised me by picking me up from their station and taking me out to eat the Nagoya version of unagi, grilled eel, as I mentioned earlier. It's really interesting because there are these three ways to eat it, and the way it's cooked is slightly different, so it tastes more grilled/charcoal-ish? I liked it. :D

This is the view walking towards the closest train station from my sister's host family's house. There's. No. People. Oh. My. Goodness. Nagoya actually seems livable compared to Tokyo. Look at those mountains and that beautiful sunshine.

This is a sign next to Nagoya castle. It says that this road is closed to traffic in the event of a major earthquake. That blue and yellow character is Namazu, the catfish that lives under the earth and causes earthquakes when he thrashes about, according to Japanese mythology.

 Nagoya Castle.
 Apparently much of the castle's palace was destroyed during WWII and they're just now reconstructing it. Here's me and my hard hat in the reconstruction area. It was really cool to look at the progress photos. Apparently things have changed a lot since my sister was first here.

 Closer to Nagoya Castle.

 Me and my sister posing on a "kin-shachi," the golden dolphins that are on top of Nagoya Castle. Personally, I don't think shachi look like dolphins at all, but the popular translation seems to be "dolphin," so we'll stick with that. When we asked the people behind us in line to take our picture, one of them took one with their camera too. I can't really figure out why. Like, what story are they going to tell with that? "I saw twin foreigners at Nagoya Castle today, hey look!" I don't really get the logic behind Japan's shutterbugs.
I'm a little big proud of this picture. It's in Oasis 21 in Sakae, the young people's hang out in Nagoya. The way the green tower reflects on the water is really interesting.
We ate another famous Nagoya food, miso katsu! It was really delicious. But you can't really go wrong with fried pork or miso, so.
After this, I had a really great time doing karaoke, talking with my sister's host mother, and getting to meet up with one of my Japan Term friends, who is back in Japan to teach English. It was a really good trip. It made me realize again my difficulties in living in and around Tokyo, though, so it was sort of depressing to go back. It was good to see my host family when I returned, though.

Now for something completely different. I mentioned that Tokyo was hard to live with.
 This is Shibuya on a Saturday evening. I don't know if you can tell, but that black mass filling the bottom of the frame is people. People, people, people, people. We were going out to Mexican food to celebrate some birthdays, and that turned out to be a mistake. Advice for the future: don't eat dinner in Shibuya. You'll get tiny, expensive, disappointing food. This isn't the first time we've made this mistake, but it was certainly the most spectacular. I got the "quatros tacos," four different flavors of tacos served together, for about 900 yen. Sounds good, right? Four tacos for more than 10 dollars has got to get you some big food, right?
The tortillas were the size of silver dollar pancakes.
The only one of us who didn't want to cry after getting their food was the one who had the foresight to order fajitas. Those were normal size, for whatever reason.

The only good thing about this restaurant was this:

 Yep, that's a Missouri license plate on the wall. Nicely done, Zest Cantina Shibuya. Way to stick something on your wall that has nothing to do with Mexican food. But I was pleased to see that familiar white and teal nonetheless. It took me half the dinner to notice it, though. Probably because I'm not used to Missouri license plates being an unusual thing.

Next, the trip to Hakone. We went to Yu no Sato onsen for a relaxing day trip. It was nice to soak in a hot spring, gaze at the surrounding mountains, and forget about homework for a while. I can describe the onsen experience in more detail if you all need the description or are interested, but I'm guessing many of you already read my sister's blog entry on the subject back in August. Let me know if you have questions though.

 Mt. Fuji, as seen from the Romance Car train.

My lunch from the onsen resort. It was great to be able to eat sashimi on the program's tab, and this was pretty and everything, but I was still pretty hungry when I finished it. Pretty, insubstatial food is the bane of my existence. 
 I admit to photographing this banner at the onsen only because it was Knox colors.

 And here's the sign on the way into the resort.

And to end with something completely different, the gingko trees at Waseda. Even though they smell (though my sense of smell is so horrible I hardly notice), I really like gingko trees for their bright yellow leaves. Seeing them all over the place at Waseda and in the Yoyogi area last time I was here was one of the things that inspired me to come back.

 This is the way I walk from the train station onto campus. The signboards are advertising different events and clubs on campus. I can't really read them.

 Here's the statue of Okuma Shigenobu, the founder of Waseda. He was also a pretty important figure in the Meiji Restoration, and he served as prime minister.

This must have been a Monday morning, hence campus' total emptiness and the general lack of sunlight. The grey thing on the left is building 14, where my Monday Japanese class is. It was probably about 8:30-8:45 am, which is about when I get to school when I have first period class. I get up at 6:15 so I can catch the 7:36 local train that starts from my station so that I can sit down and play video games and therefore pretend the train is not grotesquely crowded. It doesn't need to take me this long to get to school, but I don't want to be sandwiched into a crowded, sweaty train if I can avoid it. So I get up like an hour earlier than I have to.

2 Responses so far.

  1. Molly says:

    Lovely photos! I have to say, that giant gold dolphin is one of the coolest things! And it's so wild that you saw a MO license plate in Japan! But other than that that restaurant experience sounds so bad :(((

    What's a Romance Car train?

  2. Anonymous says:

    I love your pictures. I can't imagine looking out my window and seeing Mt Fuji! So cool. and all the sashimi! Delicious!
    Hugs and kisses, Aunt Jody

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