Return to the Rising Sun, Days 11-13: Kicking Back in Kyoto

Day 11

It was time to bid farewell to Hiroshima and begin the next leg of our journey.  So we hopped on the bullet train to begin the trip to Kyoto.

Kyoto was once the capital of Japan and is famed for its numerous shrines (in excess of 1,000!!!)  We had comfortable reserved seating on the Shinkansen which almost felt like a first class trip this time and made it to Kyoto in short order.  A brief ten minute walk led us to our new temporary home.

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Our home in Kyoto.

This was easily the favorite of our lodgings, though we still have one more to visit before this trip is done.  This house was luxurious and could easily accommodate 4 people.  We had a den which held a massage chair to soothe those sore muscles.  A nice living room/dining room area with TV.  A laundry room with a combo washer/dryer unit.  We even had an electronic bathroom with a talking tub.  This tub will fill a hot bath for you at the push of a button and recycle the water to keep it hot during the duration of your soak.  We also had a comfortable upstairs loft.

It was a relief to set down our things and unwind for a bit.  Then some bad news hit.  Mat was ill.  With our guide and resident translator down for the count, I became the de facto guide for our journey for the next couple of days.

In the evening we walked to Aeon Mall, a high-end shopping center near our house to find some dinner.  They had a food court on the fourth floor with a wide variety of food which I was glad of.  I’ve enjoyed the food over here, but I’ve noticed that the menus tend to be similar from place to place unless you hit up a fast food joint.

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Aeon Mall

I found a curry restaurant and ordered chicken in a spicy curry with rice and water for my dinner and enjoyed a tangy, tasty meal.  Afterwards we found yet another arcade and Dave won some more prizes and was now in dire need to buy a new suitcase since he had purchased or won so much stuff on our trip.  Getting one at Aeon Mall was out as its high-end nature made the cheapest bag a mere $200.

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Spicy chicken curry and rice

We put that problem to the side and returned to the house for a well deserved rest.

Day 12

Another Sunday in Japan meant another day without church.  But, again, our little group of 3 (Mat was still unwell) went to a couple of Kyoto’s famed shrines and temples.

We found a little one at first and it seemed like a christening or blessing was taking place for a newborn.  When the new family left, I walked into the area, but the monk held up his hands (a local sign for no) and I stepped right back out.

It was a quick exploration and then we came to Toji Temple.  Now this was an impressive site and dwarfed Meiji Shrine in terms of size.  The hallmark of this Buddhist temple was a 6 story pagoda.  They also had some worship areas and it was very calming to hear the chants and intonations as the worshippers sent prayers to Buddha.  Due to the holy ground, photos were not permitted inside the worship areas, but they had some beautiful statues and art pieces.  They also used a very potent incense which quickly drove me back outside.  Strong incense and I are old foes as I’ve had some fainting spells when exposed to it especially when combined with my other nemeses, high heat and humidity.  I was feeling a little heady and sat down for a moment to clear my head.

When we were done looking around, we stopped at a little restaurant near to our house called Tenkaippin, which ended up being another ramen restaurant.  I had a light and refreshing Assari soup which was made from chicken stock and vegetables and a soy sauce broth.

We returned to the inn after picking up some soup for Mat and relaxed for the afternoon.  As I feared, my exposure to the incense played havoc with my head and it was pounding.  I took a pair of aspirin from Dave and then collapsed for a 2 hour nap.  The combination of aspirin and rest did the trick as I felt remarkably better after I awoke.

It was dinnertime so I led the group back to Aeon Mall where we ate at Kitano Grill and this was probably the best meal of the trip due to its variety.  This menu was unlike those of other restaurants and I ended up choosing a delicious chicken and rice casserole which hit the spot.

With full stomachs, it was back to the house to close out the night.

Day 13

Mat had a little of his vim and vigor back and it would be needed as we would be taking a half-day sightseeing tour that morning.

We went to our meeting place and hopped on a bus that took us to Nijo Castle to start the tour.

Nijo Castle was once the home of the shogun, head of all sumarai and the de facto leader of Japan.  The emperor ruled politically, but the shogun was viewed as the true ruler due to military might.  Nijo Castle really wasn’t a castle, just two sets of large buildings called palaces.  The inner palace was being renovated so our tour was limited to the gardens and outer palace which were both quite impressive.

Like Toji Temple, pictures were forbidden inside Nijo Castle, but there were some beautiful paintings inside and the most interesting thing were the nightingale floors.  Nightingale floors were a security system of feudal Japan and they sing like nightingales when you walk on them.

We spent an hour at the castle before heading to Kitano Tenmangu, a Shinto shrine.  I was surprised to see that, in structure, there is little difference between a Buddhist shrine and a Shinto shrine.  The only real difference is that prayers in a Buddhist shrine are offered to Buddha and in Shinto they are offered to nature.  Again, we enjoyed the beautiful architecture for an hour before heading to our last stop.

Our last stop was the Golden Pavilion, known for its lush gardens and a golden pagoda.  Once more, we spent an hour admiring the gardens, especially a 600 year old bonsai and the gorgeous structures on the grounds.

After this stop, a hard rain began as the result of another typhoon working its way across the country though it’s supposed to clear in a short time.  Our bus took us back to our starting point and Dave took advantage of the shopping center to find a third piece of luggage to lug his swag back to the States.  He was able to find one for the more reasonable price of $98.

Lunch was next on our minds and we found a kaiten belt (conveyor belt) sushi restaurant, not only to have something a little bit different, but would be fair to Mat.  Since you are only charged by the plate, Mat would pay only what he felt equal to eating since his appetite was still tanked.

I enjoyed salmon, shrimp, and roast beef variations of sushi which perked me up.  A veritable cloudburst erupted during lunch so Mat and I walked home in the rain while Amy and Dave went to visit Aeon Mall and the shopping center at Kyoto Avanti respectively.

Mat rested while I conducted some business for my impending return to the States and wrote up this article.  The rain seems poised to keep us indoors for the rest of the night, so only 1 full day left to go before this epic journey reaches its conclusion.

The Arizona Chronicles, Vol. 4, Days 4-8: A Farewell to Tall Square and Arizona Mat in the Not So Wild West

In hindsight, it would have been better if I had simply checked into a hotel instead of having the cab driver return me to Arizona Mat’s house.  Arizona Mat’s house has an excellent alarm system and he has the only key.  I curled myself up by the front door and settled in for a wretched night’s sleep.

I blinked as the rays of the morning sun woke me the next day.  I yawned and mightily stretched a crick out of my back.  I heard the roar of the zambonis as they finally pulled up to Arizona Mat’s house.  Arizona Mat and Tall Square were beyond exhausted and both slowly got off the zambonis, limply punching each other in the shoulder.  I reached into Arizona Mat’s backpack and pulled out his keys.  I guided the weary frenemies into the house and let Tall Square fall in the doorway.  I proceeded to walk Arizona Mat to the alarm system, and maneuvered his finger to the numbers he pointed towards.  Then I let him collapse to the floor.

Today I saw something that I do not ordinarily see in Arizona. . .rain.  And not a gentle rainfall, but a full blown ripping storm.  There wasn’t much to do in the weather, so I spent the day inside with Arizona Mat and Tall Square who still weren’t speaking so I could enjoy some peace and quiet.

Around 1pm, Arizona Mat suddenly offered his hand to Tall Square and apologized for being such a drip.  To make it up to him, he offered him a free sandwich from Ike’s Love & Sandwiches and said he’d take us to the movies.  Tall Square, justifiably, was wary, but accepted the proffered handshake.  I sensed something was awry and decided to just observe.

So we went to Ike’s and it was probably the best sandwich I had ever eaten.  Hostilities seemed to be soothed and we went to watch Boruto, the final chapter to a long running anime series called Naruto.  It was an excellent film.  Things continued to remain calm between Tall Square and Arizona Mat and we spent the rest of the evening puttering around.

I remained suspicious of Arizona Mat’s kindness towards Tall Square the next day, especially after I saw Arizona Mat leaving the office which I was using as bedroom, giggling to himself.  He announced that he was treating us to lunch at Osaka, a teppanyaki and sushi restaurant.  Arizona Mat ordered the sushi boat which came with a large variety of delicacies and a dragon roll and a crunchy roll.

It was a delicious meal and Arizona Mat said he had a special treat for Tall Square.  The waiter brought out what Arizona Mat called a kanboo roll.  I raised an eyebrow as I was familiar with sushi types, but had never heard of a kanboo roll.  Arizona Mat offered Tall Square the roll, a sinister smirk on his face, and Tall Square wolfed it down.

Arizona Mat offers Tall Square the kanboo (amnesia) roll.

Arizona Mat offers Tall Square the kanboo (amnesia) roll.

A few minutes later, Tall Square started to look a bit befuddled.

“Are you all right?” I asked.

“Yes, except for one thing.  Do I know you two gentlemen?”

“I think we need to get him to a hospital,” I said.

“No, he’s OK,” said Arizona Mat, a smarmy grin on his face.

“What exactly is a kanboo roll?” I asked.

“It’s Japanese for amnesia.  Yet another brilliant invention from Carolyn for stopping potential threats to my glorious personage.”

“Has it ever been tested?”

“Yes, just now.”

I heaved a mighty sigh as Tall Square regressed to his 21st birthday.  Arizona Mat led Tall Square to the car and drove us to the airport.  He had purchased the first available ticket and we led Tall Square the gates.  Tall Square had continued to regress as he forgot more and more details of his life.  By the time we were  nearing the gates, Tall Square was now about 5, skipping around singing, A Tisket, A Tasket.  We got permission to assist Tall Square to his departure gate and left him on a chair, a zen-like grin on his face.  I think he had regressed to the womb.  We then left him to his own devices.

Farewell, Tall Square.

Tall Square under the influence of a kanboo roll.

Tall Square under the influence of a kanboo roll.

“Now we can have some real fun,” said Arizona Mat, gleefully rubbing his hands together.

Arizona Mat failed to elaborate until we reached his home.  On his doorstep was waiting a giant box.

“Oh, boy!  She’s here!” said Arizona Mat.

Arizona Mat ripped open the box which held a pet carrying case.  Opening the door, a friendly golden retriever mix leaped out and began licking Arizona Mat.

“Who is this?” I asked.

“This is Jojo, my new sidekick.  She’s infinitely more loyal and has ten times the brains that Tall Square ever did,” replied Arizona Mat.  “Who loves you, sweetie?” he asked, as he rubbed her belly.

Arizona Mat announced that we would be heading to Tucson the next day to have a bit of fun.  We began the trip with a visit to Old Tucson Studios.  This is still an active studio and many classic western films and TV series have been filmed here.  I thought the entrance fee of $18 was very overpriced.  You’d be hard pressed to make a day out of this place unless you were gung ho about seeing all of the little shows and events that would take place during the day.

Still it was an enjoyable visit, especially for a film buff like myself.  I watched auditions for new saloon girls as well as an old fashioned western gunfight and fistfight in a little sketch about a botched robbery.  The most entertaining moment came when Arizona Mat decided to ignore the “Don’t get too close to the animals” sign and was poked by a bull.  It was just a glancing blow, but enough to send Arizona Mat into a faint.  I made some extra money by posing Arizona Mat as a horse thief corpse and charging 25 cents per picture.

Making a little profit off of Arizona Mat.

Making a little profit off of Arizona Mat.

When Arizona Mat regained consciousness, he drove us to our hotel, The Doubletree, which was a rather nice oasis.  After settling Jojo into the room and getting an icepack for Arizona Mat’s injury, we proceeded to Dakota’s Bar and Grill.  Arizona Mat ate an avocado BLT and I munched on a jalapeno bacon chili cheeseburger.

Once we had filled our cavities, we proceeded to Golf N Stuff, a pretty decent miniature golf course.  It was a much closer contest than our last battle.  It was close until the final few holes, where Arizona Mat finally managed to build an advantage that I could not overcome.  When that ended, we returned to the hotel where I read and Arizona Mat watched football.

The next morning, we had breakfast in the Cactus Rose, one of two restaurants at the Doubletree.  I enjoyed a breakfast quesadilla that had chiles, onions, cheese, eggs, and sausage with a side of breakfast potatoes while Arizona Mat ate a Quick Start that had sausage, eggs, sourdough toast, and breakfast potatoes.

During our meal, Arizona Mat said we would be heading to the Chiricahua Mountains where we would be doing a 5 mile hike.  I was looking forward to it as I have been preparing myself for a climb up Mt Fuji in August 2016 and thought this would be a good test of my fitness level.

It was a lovely hike.  The scenery was beautiful and the weather was just right.  I was proud to say that I handled the hike very well.  It was a good first step on my journey to climb Mt Fuji.  Jojo proved to be a real trooper as she bounded about.  Arizona Mat introduced me to an interesting device called a camel pack which holds 3 liters of water.  Drinking from it is quite easy and much handier than carrying a thermos.  I’m going to have to get one for myself before climbing Mt Fuji.

The face of Cochise.

The face of Cochise.

The mighty Jojo.

The mighty Jojo.

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At the end of the hike, we hopped back into the car and began the 4 hour journey back to Phoenix.  We had a supper at Simi’s Café, an Asian cuisine eatery.  Arizona Mat had Pho and orange chicken while I had a garlic chicken stir fry.

Towards the end of the meal, Arizona Mat began to look a little befuddled.

“Are you OK, Arizona?” I asked, a smirk slowly forming on my lips.

“Do I know you, sir?”

“Yes!” I crowed.

I should probably explain.  When I saw Arizona Mat use the kanboo roll on Tall Square, I saw my chance to rid myself of this pest once and for all.  I managed to find some more of it in “Carolyn’s” office.  I ground it to a fine powder and waited for my chance.  When Arizona Mat was briefly distracted as he forked a piece of chicken, I used the sleight of hand which served me so well when I cheated Arizona Mat in poker several years ago.

I left Arizona Mat at the table where he had curled into a fetal position and was gently sucking his thumb.  I ran into the night and shouted, “Free!  Free at last!!”  I ran to the car, removed my luggage which I had placed inside before we left, and hailed a cab.

As I was driven to the airport, I sunk into the seat, a big smile on my face as I knew the Arizona Chronicles had finally come to an end at last.

The End????

The Arizona Chronicles, Vol. 2, Days 3 & 4: Guard Duty

“Who would want to hurt me?” whined Arizona Mat.  “I’m so sweet and lovable.”

Mongrel and I shared a look.  “Well,” I said, turning back to Arizona Mat, “you know there are a lot of strange people in this world.  Maybe we can come up with a list of suspects if you can think of anybody who might have a particular dislike for you.”

“Um, let’s see.  There’s Tall Square. . .my brother. . .a couple of old roommates. . .that UPS driver who delivered the package. . .the pizza delivery guy I never tip. . .my mailman. . .the curator of the museum. . .my barber. . .that elderly lady whose seat I stole on the bus. . .”

Two Hours Later

“my third grade teacher. . .that kid in kindergarten whose glue I always ate. . .and that’s about it.”

“Huh?” I grunted as I woke from a light sleep.  “All right.  Since we’ve narrowed down the list to everyone you’ve ever met, I think the best thing to do would be to post a guard until we catch whomever is behind this.”

I volunteered to take the first watch, though it was probably not the best of ideas.  I’m not much of a night owl and I was now forced to admit that I truly was sick.  My sore throat was still bothering me and now I was starting to ache as well as feel incredibly weak.  I fought sleep as long as I was able, but ended up nodding off.  I was awoken by a shake from Mongrel.

“Hey.  You OK?” asked Mongrel.

“Yeah, I just dozed off.  Let’s check out Arizona.”

We knocked on the door to Arizona Mat’s bedroom, but received no response.  Cautiously I opened the door and found Arizona Mat hanging from his ceiling fan by his underwear.  Somehow his attacker had slipped into the home and past me.  Man, I wish I wasn’t such a heavy sleeper.

Since his attacker had made it clear she or he could get to Arizona Mat at any time, we vowed that one or the other of us would keep an eye on Arizona Mat at all times.  I went to the local grocery store to lay in some supplies while Mongrel kept an eye on the panicky explorer.  After returning, Mongrel announced that he had to go out for a while and I agreed to watch over Arizona Mat since my illness rendered going out a highly unlikely scenario.  We stayed indoors all day playing Uno and watching films, though every sound seemed to send Arizona Mat into a frenzy.

CREAK!!

“What was that?”

“The house settling.”

TWEET!!

“Ah!  What was that?”

“Your electronic parrot, Polly.”

VROOOM!!

“Ah!  What was that?”

“My foot connecting with your keester in about a minute,” I said under my breath.

About 4pm, I asked Arizona Mat if he would drive me to St Mary Magdalene so I could attend a evening worship service.  Donning a cheesy disguise of an oversized handlebar moustache, a monocle, and a ten gallon hat, Arizona Mat drove me to the service.  I invited him in, but his paranoia made him reluctant to do so.

At 5:40, he picked me up and seemed a little more relaxed.  Apparently, he had killed the hour at a Barnes and Noble and when he wasn’t accosted, he thought the worst had passed.  He drove us to a sushi restaurant when we enjoyed a peaceful meal full of delicacies such as eel, salmon, spicy tuna, miso soup, and other delights.

Arizona Mat was starting to behave more like his old self, regaling me with stories of his explorations which I managed to ignore while nodding politely to present the illusion of listening.  As I turned to take a drink of water, I saw one of the teppanyaki chefs slowly approaching from behind.  In his hands, he held a samurai sword which he pulled down from the wall.

“Look out!” I shouted, shoving Arizona Mat to the side.  The sword passed harmlessly between us.  I grabbed my water glass and smashed it  over the attacker’s head, while Arizona Mat started walking over the teppanyaki grills to escape, dancing as the hot grills scorched the soles of his shoes.

We hotfooted (pun intended) it out to his car and he tore out of the parking lot.

“How were you found?” I wondered aloud.

“I don’t know.  I didn’t tell anybody.  I just posted it on Facebook.”

“You what?”

“I said I just posted in on FB.”

Given my normally polite nature, I’ll spare your ears from the barrage of invective I unleashed on Arizona Mat.  Suffice to say, I ordered him to have no contact at all with the outside world and not to leave the house unless Mongrel or myself was with him.

Mongrel had returned by the time we got back and he slept outside Arizona Mat’s bedroom, while I slept on a chair in the room.  The night passed without incident.

The next day, Mongrel again left to run some errands and Arizona Mat and I stayed indoors all day playing cards and watching movies except for a brief lunch stop at In and Out Burger where we picked up animal style double cheeseburgers to go.  No attacks happened that day and the slow day helped my health as my sore throat finally disappeared in the evening and I began to feel stronger.

After a supper of grilled steaks and salad, I decided to swim in the pool.  Too scared to take his customary evening swim, Arizona Mat stayed in the dining room area looking out so I could keep an eye on him.  As I floated in the water, letting it take all my stress away, I was suddenly surprised as I was carried off on a tidal wave that launched me into the air.  The last thing I remember before everything went dark was the backyard rushing up to meet my face.

To be continued

A Journey Beyond Imagination, Day 3: Of Shopping and Sushi

Day 3 of this expedition was an all day shopping tour.  Shortly after breakfast, our group of gaijin headed to the subway station and set on off to the Ginza district.

Our first stop was the Sony Building.  Sony was celebrating the 30th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s Bad album.  A life-sized cutout of Michael was set on a stage outside the building and people were encouraged to take pictures.  I got a photo of myself doing the moonwalk while Mat took a before picture of himself giving “Michael” the bunny ears followed by a photo of himself sprawled out on the ground, unconscious.  I guess “Michael” showed him who’s bad.

After perusing and purchasing various knickknacks in the Sony Building, Yukie took us outside the restaurant of a legendary sushi chef.  I don’t remember his name, but he had recently been the focus of a documentary.  His restaurant is incredibly small, but reservations must be made a month in advance in order to eat there.  There is also no menu.  The food is whatever the chef feels like preparing that day.  If you want to eat there, bring lots of money as the cost is a staggering $300 per person to sample this legend’s wares.

From there, it was off to the Shinjuku district where we visited the Square Enix store.  Square Enix is a video game company best known for creating the Final Fantasy series of games.  It was a very small shop, but it had lots of interesting models to look at.  I ended up picking up some mystery monster toys for my niece and nephew. 

After our visit to Square Enix, we headed over to Harajuku where we enjoyed a late lunch at a ramen restaurant.  I ordered a Kanoban (spicy) pork ramen.  Dave and Mat ordered similar dishes, but theirs had eggs in them.  When we received our meals, they inspired the classic Matism, “I can smell the porky goodness.”  And it was a delicious meal.

Once we had recharged our batteries with the food, we explored the market in Harajuku which has a more underground feel.  I bought a t-shirt for myself that had a kanji which translated to “I’m in Japan” and bought a Hello, Kitty thingamajig for my sister-in-law.  I also caved to peer pressure as I bought a crepe along with Mat and Dave.  I’m usually not much for sweets, but this was an excellent dessert.

Soon our time was up and our group of merry wanderers made its way to Shibuya where we stopped at a bazaar.  I did most of my souvenir shopping at this place as there were all sorts of items to choose from.  I chose several beautiful items made out of ceramics for my friends and family like fish, lotus blossoms, and a few interesting stones.

Afterwards, we headed back to our hotel for a little bit of down time before our group headed out to a kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi restaurant for dinner.  The name is just what it sounds like.  We sat around a giant centerpiece that had all kinds of sushi being moved by conveyor belt.  If something caught your interest, you grabbed it and enjoyed it.  When you were finished eating, the plates would be counted up and that’s what you would be charged.  I seem to recall that the price was 118 yen (a bit over $1) a plate.  Mat, who has a superhuman metabolism, said he had polished off 18 plates of sushi when he had eaten at this place 2 years previously.  Mind you, the plates are about the size of a tea saucer with a just a piece or two of sushi on each dish.

Once we had dined, it was back to the Hotel Tokyo Metropolitan where we took it easy for the rest of the night.  We were going to need all of our strength tomorrow as we were heading for the centerpiece of the Tokyo Maximum Tour. . .the Tokyo Game Show.