As promised here is a video I put together of the spectacular Awa Odori festival that I saw during my stop in Tokushima (on the Southern island of Shikoku) this August. If you’re a newcomer to my blog, I suggest reading this post about the festival before checking out the video.
So, picking up from the trip back to Japan. Even though the flight my dad and I took from Shanghai to Osaka landed in the early afternoon, by the time we handled all of our business and made it back to Kyoto station it was nearly dark and well past business hours. We’d have to wait until the following morning to pick up the keys to my new apartment from the real estate agent’s office. So we decided to get a room at the Utano Youth Hostel, directly across the street from the dorm I lived in last semester (Incidentally, this is the origin of the term “YHM” that I used so often on my blog last semester. It stands for “Youth Hostel Mae,” or “In front of the youth hostel.”)
It was hilarious staying in a hostel with my dad, with whom I don’t think I’ve ever stayed in anything with less than a four-star rating. He said that he hadn’t been to one in over thirty-seven years.
Early the next morning we went across the street to pick up all of my stuff from Bjorn, a friend who was kind enough to keep it in his room during the months that I was away. The trip down memory lane continued as Obasan, the facility’s caretaker and one of the sweetest women I’ve ever met, offered us cups of tea and a free futon and blankets so that I wouldn’t have to buy new ones for my apartment.
I spent the following few days trying to maintain a balance of showing my dad as much of Kyoto as possible while at the same time taking care of the various errands required to move into a new apartment – changing my address at the ward office, health insurance, cell phone, signing up for internet, buying furniture, and so forth. It got pretty hectic, but just being able to spend so much time with my dad after having been separated for eight months was really nice – even if we did spend much of it running errands.
But even with all of the errands we somehow managed to cover pretty much all of the major sites by bike – Kiyomizu Dera, Nanzenji, Ninnaji, Fushimi Inari, Heian Jingu, Gosho, Nijojo, Pontocho, Gion, and so forth. I think my dad really enjoyed seeing Gion in particular, as he’d recently read “Memoirs of a Geisha,” essentially a crash-course in Japanese traditional culture as well as Kyoto itself. Kyoto of course contains Gion, the country’s most famous geisha district. It’s the only place in the world you can still see them with any regularity.
We also managed to squeeze in a day trip to Hikone, a town on the far side of Lake Biwako, the largest lake in Japan. We chose this particular location because it contains one of the more magnificent castles in Kansai and because I’ve never been there. And because the minimum three hour lines that I was told to expect at the Aichi World Expo didn’t sound all that appealing. It was a shame to skip out on the expo entirely, I’ve been pretty excited about it for the past six months, but we figured that with those kinds of waits we’d only end up with time enough to see two or three different exhibits anyways, hardly worth the $150 each in tickets and transportation that the day would require.
And then at last, on the Sunday before classes at Ritsumeikan were to begin, my dad left, truly putting an end to my summer vacation. Interestingly enough I’ve never once felt homesick since coming to Japan until that Sunday night. Perhaps it’s because when I first came here I was too caught up in the excitement of moving to Japan to feel anything else, and have since kept myself too busy even to have a chance. Perhaps it’s because I just spent the last two months with a number of good friends from back home – Nick, David, Rosa, and of course my dad. Or maybe it’s because this is the first time I’ve had no internet access and therefore no way to call my friends or family back in the States. But in any case, it passed quickly enough.
Like…in one day.
Also, this is the first time in my life I’ve ever lived completely alone. Since moving out of my parents’ house when I was 18 I’ve never lived with any less than two friends. It’s a bit strange coming home to an empty apartment, with no one to have a beer with or eat dinner with. But in a way it’s kind of nice. It’s small, but it’s private. I have my own kitchen, my own little balcony, and right next to my room is the access to a spacious roof deck perfect for BBQ get-togethers. If I had a BBQ, that is.
So, the day after my dad left I returned to Ritsumeikan for my first class of the new semester. I was promptly greeted with a shocked exclamation of “Oh my God Justin, you got so thin! What happened to your boobs??”
You see, my obsessive lifting prior to coming to Japan combined with the surroundings of dainty little Japanese men quickly earned me the nickname of “Boobacles” (that’s boob-uh-cleez) after my arrival. But a shortage of both protein and heavy weights led to a quick loss – one which was significantly worsened by two months of heavy cardio (i.e. mountain climbing, trekking everywhere with a giant backpack, etc) and lack of proper nutrition. It looks like I’ll have yet another goal for this semester: to get back at least to where I was before summer vacation, still significantly below where I was when I left the US.
Upon arriving at Rits I also learned that I had been placed into A-class, the highest level of Japanese language below “native.” It’s nice to know that all of my hard work last semester paid off, but somehow I really don’t feel like I’m even close to that good. There must just be a huge gap between A and seiki, the only level above A. But it’s alright, because there’s no better way to improve than putting myself into a situation where I have no other choice. I don’t even think my teachers understand any English this semester…but I could be wrong.
So, life seems to be getting pretty much back to normal around here. I’m still not fully set up at my new apartment; Yahoo Broadband takes three weeks to activate, for example, so to check my e-mail I’ve been climbing up onto the roof where I can get a weak wireless signal from somewhere in the building nextdoor. I can only imagine what someone would think if they popped their head up and saw me sitting there hunched over my laptop right next to a huge TV antenna with wires dangling all around me. Probably think I was some sort of a plotting evil genius.
Not that that’s so far from the truth…**