Thursday, April 20, 2006

Playing Catch-up Part 4

4/15/2006 - 4/16/2006: The Tokyo Trip

Saturday morning. Up and out of bed early. Pack. Get in the car. Drive out to New Chitose Airport. Make a pit stop in Tomakomai for some Seattle's Best Coffee. Get frustrated because the store isn't open at 9:30. Wait half an hour anyway. Park my car at an airport parking lot and catch a shuttle van to the airport. Check in. Get on the plane. Fly for an hour and a half. Arrive at Haneda Airport in Tokyo.

I'm not the biggest fan of Tokyo. Dirty, crowded, rude people, generally an obnoxious city. I wouldn't even go there, except that a lot of my friends live in or around Tokyo.

That was the reason I was flew in to Tokyo today. My friend Kanako was getting married.

So I arrived at Haneda Airport, and on my way to the monorail to head towards Asakusa, where I was going to be staying that night, I saw this.

Sniff. Makes me think of home. Pasco: a city in Washington, or a bakery in Haneda Airport.

I got on the train, put my bags down, and waited for the train to start moving...

Then my phone rang. Hey, it's R! Wonder why she's calling me?

Me: "Hey, R! What's up?"
R: "Dustin-sensei? We're in Akihabara right now. We missed the train, so we'll be in Asakusa a little late?"
Me: "Huh?"

Let me explain. Some of the students that graduated last month are now going to university in Tokyo. I told R that I would be coming down in mid-April, so if she had free time, we should get together and have lunch. I told her to invite whoever else was in the area that could make it. I also told her to meet me in Asakusa on SUNDAY.

Me: "Ummm, you're going there today? Why?"
R: "You said today."
Me: "I have a wedding reception to go to today. There's no way I could have said today."
R: "No, you said today."
Me: "Umm, I just got in to Haneda...aw, crap...what am I gonna do...okay, I'll be in Asakusa in about forty minutes. I'll see you there."

It took me a little bit of thinking back, but apparently I had convinced myself that the 15th was Sunday, so I told her the 15th, completely convinced that I was talking about Sunday. I told you that dang play had me thoroughly messed up (see previous post).

So I made a phone call out to Kakuho, my buddy who lives in Asakusa and who was going to let me stay at his house that night, and explained the situation. He was really cool about it, and we worked out a schedule that would let me eat lunch with my old students and still make it over to his place with time to get ready for the reception that night.

A mad dash for connecting trains and such put me into Asakusa Station at about 10 minutes to 2. I headed out from the station over to Kaminari-mon, the main entrance to Sensoji Temple, the huge temple that pretty much everybody visits on their first trip to Tokyo. The crowds are ridiculous and the prices of souvenirs there are insane, but it can be a fun place to go to.

Anyway, when I got there, it was crowded (as usual), but I was able to find my students, R, M, & N. They all seemed to be doing really well, although they were having some difficulty adjusting to life in DA BIG CITY. We were all really hungry, so we talked about what we wanted to eat for lunch.

The verdict? Monja-yaki. (Check out this explanation of okonomiyaki, and scroll down for a mention of monja-yaki.)

So I put in a call to Kakuho again. Kakuho was born and raised in Asakusa, so he's a real Tokyo native, one of the shita-machi types who are some of the cooler residents of Tokyo. He was in one of my groups of Asia University students when I worked as an International Peer Advisor at CWU. He is also a Buddhist priest at a temple in Asakusa (more on that later). He's a great guy, and I'm proud to call him my friend.

Anyway, Kakuho knows pretty much all there is to know about Asakusa. So when I called him up and asked him for a good monja-yaki restaurant to go to, he had the answer for me right away. And man, does that guy know how to pick out a good restaurant. We had a couple different kinds of monja-yaki, and I paid for everybody. What good is it being a teacher if you can't treat former students to a meal? After grabbing some dessert at a different shop, we all went over to Kakuho's place for tea.

We all talked for a bit, had some good tea and some even better snacks that Kakuho made. When he ever learned how to cook, I'll never know. But I am very impressed.

I snuck into another room and got changed for the wedding reception, and then Kakuho snuck off to change after I came back. After we were all ready to split, we headed out; R, M, and N to see the Asakusa sights and Kakuho and I to catch a taxi to the reception. Kakuho gave them a few bits of Asakusa info and then we parted ways.

Kakuho and I caught a taxi to the reception hall, which was over in the Mejiro area of Tokyo. (Where that is in relation to any other part of Tokyo? I have no idea. I just know that it took us about twenty minutes to get there.)

We found the waiting room for the reception (after a little difficulty) and checked in. It was weird walking into that room, because I saw a lot of folks I hadn't seen in quite some time, some of whom I hadn't seen for almost eight years. It was really cool to see everyone.

Of course, then the abuse started.

"Dustin! You got old!"
"Dustin! You got fat!"
"Dustin! You got bald!" (Hence the new haircut.)
"Dustin! Your beard is eroi!" ("Eroi" being a word that means something between "erotic" and "perverse"; basically the equivalent of saying that my beard makes me a dirty old man. Okay...slam on my age, slam on my weight, slam on my hair or the lack thereof, but leave the beard out of it. That's just playing dirty.)

First time in almost eight years that we've seen each other, and THAT'S the first freaking thing you have to say to me? Gee, way to make me glad that I spent the money to come down for this.

Now, I will clarify this by saying that it wasn't everybody that was saying this, but it was enough of them, and it didn't end with just one mention. So by the time we actually went into the reception hall, I was in a pretty foul mood.

Add that to my lack of relationships as of late and my frustration with it, and I was not a happy camper. I ended up not really being able to talk to Kanako, which I really wanted to do. She looked really happy, and her husband seems like a pretty decent guy. I told her congratulations, of course, but for the most part I sipped my beer and availed myself to the buffet (which of course led to more comments about my weight).

Thing is, I'm not even FAT! People need to back up off of me before I start laying the smack down, Rock-style.

Most of us in the "Kanako's friends" group went out to another bar and hung out for a bit before heading off our separate ways. Instead of heading back to Kakuho's place, as was the original plan, I ended up heading out to Yokohama to catch up with my friend Shingo. Three of us from the party (Akira, Kazuma, and I) crashed at Shingo's new pad. It was good to see him, too. He seems to be doing really well.

The next morning, Akira, Kazuma, and I cleared out of Shingo's place early. They had places to go, and I had promised to help Kakuho watch the house until about 1. So it was back out to Asakusa for me.

I mentioned earlier that Kakuho is a Buddhist priest. He belongs to the Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism. I don't know how many generations of his family have been Buddhist priests, but he's following the family tradition. His house is also a temple, although you wouldn't really be able to tell from the outside view of his house. As a priest at this temple, he has priestly duties, as does his father. His father had to head off somewhere else early that morning, so it was just Kakuho and his mother watching the place. They needed an extra person around to help, and I was there.

Kakuho's priestly duties of the day consisted of conducting four hoji (Buddhist memorial ceremonies). These ceremonies commemorate the death of a family member. Kakuho explained the significance of hoji to me.

In Japan, the concept of celebrating one's birthday is a relatively recent thing. Why? Because Japanese people counted their ages according to the kazoedoshi system. In this system, when you're born, you're 1. Could be on March 17, could be on December 31, you're 1. As soon as the New Year rolls around, everyone gets another year on their age. Your birthday could be March 17, could be December 31, when that New Year comes, you're two. Everybody gets one year older on January 1. So it was kind of like everyone's birthday was THE SAME DAY. (For more info, check this out.)

But everyone dies on a different day, and in order to honor your ancestors, you commemorate the day of their passing. I don't really know the system for it, but there are short spans and REALLY LONG ONES, like the 300th anniversary of an ancestor's passing. No lie. Kakuho may post a comment to clarify a bit on this. After all, he's the one in the know.

While I was holding down the fort, Kakuho let me try on part of his priest gear. Coolness.

At around one o'clock, I said goodbye to Kakuho and his mother and headed out from their house to Sensoji Temple. I had contacted Risa (from the English play in Date) and told her I was going to be in Tokyo, so we made plans to meet up for lunch before I had to cruise back to Hokkaido. She went to Starfish High before it was Starfish High (it used to have a different name). When she was a student there, she studied with Mr. Yamamoto, a teacher I met when I went up to interview for the job, and who I went out drinking with the night before this year's graduation. Risa called him up, and he agreed to come out and hang out with us.

Cool.

We met up at Kaminari-mon and set out to find some eatins. We grabbed some lunch at a groovy pork cutlet shop called "Katsukichi". Oh yeah. Fried and breaded pork goodness. I didn't have a lot of time left before I had to head back out to Haneda, but after lunch we cruised over to Sensoji Temple. We all took in some purifying incense smoke (see the scene in "Mr. Baseball" if you don't know what I'm talking about), prayed at the temple, and then went to check out our fortunes.

At Sensoji Temple, you shake a can that has numbered sticks in it until one of the sticks comes out of a hole in the lid. My stick was #70. I went over to the drawer numbered 70, opened it up, and checked out my fortune.


Kyo.

Holy crap.

I've never drawn "kyo" (bad fortune) before. Ever.

My natural reaction to that kind of a fortune. Shock, bigtime.

I debated whether or not I should hold onto it (the fact that it was my first "kyo"ever had some appeal that way), but after thinking about it for a few seconds, I knew I didn't want it. I tied up my fortune and walked out of the temple, shoulders slumped and feeling slightly depressed.

Risa and Mr. Yamamoto tried to cheer me up.

"Hey, in a way, you're lucky, because drawing kyo is really rare."
"Hey, look at it this way. You can only go up from here."

Didn't really help much.

Mr. Yamamoto bought some snacks for me to take back to Starfish High as souvenirs, and then I had to run to get on my train to the airport.

Check in, board the plane, sleep, arrive in Chitose, catch the shuttle bus to the parking lot, drive to Tomakomai to do some shopping, make a mad dash over to the SBC shop to get me a coffee (eight minutes before closing time at EIGHT PM!), drove through Shiraoi, hopped in a hot spring in Kojohama, drove home, came inside, and went to bed.

(I'm almost caught up!)

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