Sunday, October 4, 2009

Missing Something

Max showed us to a kind of fast food restaurant today, called Nakau. I'm not much into fast food, but we want to try everything so we went in (it didn't look that bad anyway). Inside was a counter like a Western fast food place, but there was also a machine with buttons and pictures of foods. We put money inside and pressed the button for the kind of food we wanted and on the other side of the counter a electronic message chirped to the attendant in Japanese that our order had been placed. In a few moments, delicious katsu-don was served to me and my friends, and it was absolutely great, with freshly cooked egg covered in soy sauce, fried chicken and rice.

I don't know if it's because I'm always excited or if the food here is just so different, but I have had little appetite and when I do eat, my stomach is always a little unhappy afterwards. I mostly get through this by immediately walking (because Kyoto is very much a walk-it city) to my next destination, which settles my stomach quickly. I am beginning to think that the food here is very rich because I need only consume a little of it to feel very full. It helps that I'm too frenzied or exhausted to eat most of the time, it's like I've turned off that part of my brain that wants food. Only until my stomach is growling loudly do I give in and get something to eat.

Afterwards was gift buying time, so I'm not going to say much about what we did, except that it was really fun finding everyone something they would like (or at least be entertained by)!

We ended up walking through a bunch of downtown Kyoto trying to find this soba place that Max said was really good. It turned out to be quite good (the soup part was practically pork gravy) and it was a really cute place with their advertisements for their one and only dish tiled across every wall, plus a commercial playing for the shop on a small tv nearby, constantly.

From there it was to the Heian Shrine for us. This is a shrine that was built in 1895 in honor the 1100 anniversary of Kyoto. It is a replica of the Imperial Palace (at one third size) of that era. On the way there we passed through a vegetarian festival (I know, this was confusing for me too, since most japanese are not vegetarian. Besides, PETA was there and that just made me mad). The best part of that was the praying mantis we found on the roof of one the the displays. He was swaying back and forth (“like he is drunk” Max said). I ended up picking him up and he scampered all over me. I wished I could have taken him home, he was the friendliest mantis, but I'm pretty sure customs would not allow it :P

Once we got to the shrine, I took a high resolution pic with my camcorder.

The shrine was beautiful, and I paid to get into the legendary gardens. Bobbie and Max stayed outside to sit and relax, and I found myself alone in the sprawling trails. The place was filled with wisteria, ponds (including catfish), and stone lanterns. Occasionally I would come upon some building or structure, usually a bridge or some stones that you had to cross to get to the other side. The gardens were meant as a place to relax and self reflect, and I fell into the process almost without realizing.

I realized I was becoming increasingly concerned about my complete lack of a connection to this country now that I was here. I still feel like I'm not actually “here” yet, that there is something crucial missing that if I find it I will click into the Japan I dreamed of for so long. It's kind of like when you go to get new glasses, and they try different magnifications. Right now everything is blurry, and I can almost see what I want, but I need to switch to a better lens. But how can I do that in a week? As a gaijin, I am completely cut off from these people, and it would take years for them to accept me into their world, if ever. And I have to wonder if the Japan I know even exists, or perhaps did (as I am fond of the older histories) and is now gone forever. I just don't know and the thought depresses me, but as the Japanese say I will try to “ganbatte ne!” or “try my best” to find what I'm looking for. It's too early to give up now.

At the end of our trip, we took the metro (subway) back. It's a very confusing system, and they seem to switch colors for tracks with wild abandon. We think we will be able to figure it out when we go to Nara tomorrow, but I miss Max. He had to leave to go back to school Sunday night and without him we feel rather lost and stupid. Neither of us have the energy to make a new friend so we will have to use our wits and charm to figure out what we want and how to get there. Speaking of getting there, my hands are permanently swollen from all the walking/salt. They practically breath salt here and we walk everywhere because the bus system can only get us to certain places. While I would love to spend an indefinite amount of time here, it will be nice to be home eventually. I miss my boyfriend and family and, you know, literacy.

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