Nothing too exciting happened today. No wank spiders crawling around like they own the places, no random happenings on campus, a grey sky all the way home. Really an ordinary day. So I decided I’ll crank out some things I’ve forgotten to mention over the past weeks, found noteworthy or just plain want to write down. A list format feels easy and fun, so we’ll try it out for this first time.
- Vending machines everywhere. And they’re full of sooo many types of drinks, from typical soda to green tea to fizzy apple water to matcha lattes to cafe au lait. Quite impressive.
- There are separate bike lanes on the side walks that I greatly admire. After living in Hawai‘i for the summer and seeing how bike-unfriendly of a city it was, Kyoto’s a huge shift. The lanes (marked by white lines) occupy between 1/3 and 1/2 the sidewalk, so a very fair allotment of riding turf.
- On that note, no one here uses the goddamn bike lanes. Either the pedestrians are wandering all willy-nilly in them, or the cyclists are weaving in and out of foot traffic as though they’re trying to see how close they can get before hitting you.
- These bikes also weave through road traffic like lunatics. Do they want to get in accidents?
- So many people here use their umbrellas just for sun cover, nevermind the rain. I can never be bothered, so it’s impressive to me that it’s so common.
- Not as many stares for being a white gaijin as I was expecting. Me gusta.
- To counter that, a little girl below high school age was sitting in front of me on the bus yesterday. Once she caught me out of the corner of her eye she turned 90º to stare in a way that was some undeterminable mix of amazed/bewildered/shocked and beyond. I said konnichiwa to her and she lost it. It was . . . cute? Entertaining? I certainly wasn’t offended, just a bit bamboozled by the interaction.
- All the tiny children walking around by themselves is a scene you’d never see in the US, partially because strangers are untrustworthy but also because our young’uns are incompetent as far as I’m concerned. Here, they all have a purpose when they’re traveling though and maneuver themselves solo around the sidewalks, buses, subways and trains. I pass one cute little girl who wildly swings her umbrella around while humming to herself every morning.
- People here have fabulous frickin’ pants. I’m a huge pants fan, especially for the flowy, billowy, hippie-dippie kinds. Here there are these fabulous trousers that are stylishly cut, typically end between the knee and mid-calf and flow like nobodies business. I don’t know the name of this style but when I buy a pair I’ll post it up.
- Crocs. Crocs are a gift to this earth and my frickin’ jam. You know who else digs them? Japanese guys. Particularly college boys and old men. I love it.
- Everything at the Hyaku-en Shop. I went today, as I seem to do most days after class, and saw these adorable, reasonably sized shakers full of flavored sugar. You craving chocolate banana? Strawberry? Cinnamon? Vanilla? They have them all. God it’s fantastic.
- The Hyaku-en Shop also plays the same 1-minute jingle over and over again, a fact I only noticed on my 3rd trip there. Every rose has its thorn, I guess.
- Matcha and azuki. Duh, of course Liz, those are the classic Japanese flavors. But you know what? I love them to death and they’re everywhere – I’m in heaven! I don’t think I’ll be able to handle life without them when I leave.
- Shrines and temples. Jinja and otera. They’re around every corner, crammed into so many random nooks on the side of the road that I don’t know that I’ll even be able to see an eighth of the ones here in Kyoto.
- Ueno Park. Everyone’s been asking me, “So what do you want to do while you’re in Japan? Any sightseeing spots?” Besides jinja/otera, a temple flea market, Uji City (home of A+++ matcha) and hopefully Hokkaido or Okinawa no, kind question-asker, no I do not want to go anywhere. Well I just realized that’s a lie. Ueno Park is a spot that’s been mentioned in most of the modern Japanese lit that I’ve read for classes and when I asked Kono-sensei what’s so special about it, she didn’t have any grand answer about it, cultural, historical or otherwise. So I want to hit it up myself and just be in this widely referenced spot, soak up the vibes and chill for a bit.
- The car garage across the street blares music all day, and the sliding door to the deck facing the garage is also open all day. Alas, they provide my background sounds. They have good taste in music.
- A lot of homeless people live under the bridges across Kamogawa. Okaa-san and I talked about that a lot at dinner today.
- Japanese people eat a lot. Either that or my stomach is hella small. Okaa-san keeps telling me she’s worried that I’m not eating enough, despite a breakfast of an egg/ham omelette, half a peach, mushrooms and a huge piece of toast or something equally as large. Same thing for dinner – no matter how much I eat she’s worried I’m starving. I don’t get it man.
- Seconding the large appetite here, Lizzie and I were discussing this at lunch the other day. Everyone we saw had a tray with 3-5 dishes of something piled on top. Maybe it’s just in America but there everyone seems to think Japanese people eat almost nothing. Well you’re all wrong. Seriously.
- The efficiency of things here is out of this world. Bathrooms? Separate rooms for toilet + sink, washing machine + big sink and shower + tub. Sidewalks? Handy bikes lanes (maybe just wistful thinking, but at least they’re there). Conbini? Every type of food possible plus microwaves to heat what you get. School cafeteria? All delicious, cheap and with a calorie count. Everything else? Mostly better than America. Gold star to Japan.
- The tv shows. I don’t know what the hell we watched tonight but it involved cats massaging people by walking on their backs – I dig it. Q-sama: a quiz/jeopardy/awesomely shot show with a bunch of cool Japanese people. Some other show: Japanese contestants try to learn/identify parts of English, yet there’s some oddly distinct and involved space theme that’s odd yet kind of charming.
- Whatever weirdos walk down this distinctly residential street are particularly loud, because whether it’s lil’ ol’ grandmas, punkin’ teenage boys or trilling teen dream queens I can always hear their conversations. Thanks strangers.
- A lot of people here carry these cute little water bottles, maybe 10-12 oz, and they’re always in adorable insulate-y pouches with great patterns. I really want one.
- They have a lot of koori (shave ice) here. I’ve eaten a lot of koori. It’s swank.
Not for the list, but a fun fact nonetheless: today we had okonomiyaki and takoyaki for dinner and it was delicious as heck. To add to that, it’s exactly what I ate at Shirokiya, the Japanese department store/food court that was also in Honolulu. Super cool nostalgia factor at play. For dessert, okaa-san found kuro goma (black sesame) yatsuhashi, a confectionary delight that Kyoto is known for and that tasted delicious. There were matcha yatsuhashi as well, but I’ve been craving sesame so those were amazing.
As an ending note, I think I’ll try to keep up some of these thought-dumps on Japan in the future, and maybe even throwback to Hawai‘i, since it was pretty unique and I still miss it like crazy. Look for them in the future: they’ll all be titled and tagged with ‘thoughts on’. 🙂
Check out my other Thoughts On Kyoto posts below, and take a look at all the posts in my Thoughts On . . . series here.