Monday, July 18, 2005

Japanese Peeps

Kyoto, Japan

The Shinkansen has just left Kyoto station, and we are bound for the World Expo in Aichi. Juan is sitting near me, manically typing away, no doubt blogging his ass off about our experiences yesterday. His update will surely be rife with details, so I'll keep it brief.

We originally went to Kyoto with the intent to take it slow. Tokyo had been rather hectic and I was looking forward to experiencing the subtler side of Japanese culture. And we were mostly successful. Kyoto was beautiful, and the number of temples and shrines was impressive. There was a particularly cool view from the Kiyomizu-dera Buddhist temple in the hills overlooking Kyoto. While walking around the city all day, we also had a few run-ins with the Gion Matsuri, one of Kyoto's great festivals, and we watched the sunset lounging next to the Kamo-gawa (a river) and drinking cans of Japanese beer. We eventually ended up in a small, red-lanterned izakaya (pub/restaurant) when it finally happened.

We have been "in country" for almost two weeks now, and it has been fun. But, there is a noticeable issue with Japanese culture. The people are very insular. They are polite and helpful to us gaijin, but they don't get very friendly. They tend to stay at arm's length. The one time we kind of met a native, it ended in some sort of aggro play-fight. We've spent the remainder of our time experiencing Japan in our little foreign bubble, very seperate from the natives.

But, in this restaurant, we actually connected with a Japanese couple sitting at the table next to us. We shared sake and laughs and Juan wowed them with his broken Japanese. It was a random stop in a Japanese back-alley, but it turned into our first real native connection. Later that night, we found our way to another seemingly random bar in Kyoto, not too far from the river. It was a strange, slightly American-themed place that was gaijin-free. Once again, with the help of Juan's increasingly adept use of the Japanese language, we made a bunch of new friends. Very cool.


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