Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Trip to Japan, Day 3

At dinner on Sunday night, we made plans to meet up with Joy and Todor again on Monday morning. They met us at our hotel around 10, with our Japanese friend Kayoko in tow. Kayoko is from a town near Nagasaki and was there visiting at the same time we were. She gave us a lot of advice before our trip, but we were happy to have her there in person to show us around the city.

Our first stop for the morning was another big temple. This one is famous for an annual festival that is held there in October, which involves a very colorful parade. The entrance to the temple involved many, many stairs. Kayoko, Joy, Keegan, and I trudged up well behind Todor, who seemed to have the energy of a sprightly mountain goat. Keegan started humming the Rocky theme. Inside the temple entrance, we went over to a fountain with many dippers that was meant to be used for washing. Kayoko showed us the proper way to prepare ourselves for praying at the temple: wash first your left hand, then your right, and then scoop some water into your mouth and rinse.

The temple was the first Shinto (native Japanese pantheistic religion) temple that we visited, and it had some different features from the Buddhist temples we had seen before. First of all, it has a unique type of gate, called a torii, that is simpler than the gates at Buddhist temples. Second of all, there were a lot of little figurines around the temple grounds to pray to. For example, there was a really charming little garden close to the main temple with two dog statues in it. The dog statues both had their legs wrapped in bits of string.

Dog statue with prayer string wrapped around its legs.

While we were there, we saw another visitor to the temple retrieve a piece of string from a nearby box and tie it around the dog's leg. Then she bowed and clapped. Next we saw another dog statue, this one with a fountain in front of it. Kayoko told us that if you washed some coins in the water, your money would double, and also that if a woman drinks the water, she will enjoy easier childbirth. On the other side of the main temple was another dog statue on a turntable. Supposedly, sailors into Nagasaki could point the dog in different directions to hopefully influence the winds in their favor. Behind and uphill from the main temple was another shrine with a tunnel of red torii leading to it. There were some really fantastic fox statues there - we may print some of our photographs of them to decorate the apartment.

Keegan and a grinning fox

After the temple, we were getting pretty hungry, so we wandered around looking for a place to eat. Finally we found a tiny noodle shop and decided to try some udon. We were glad to have Kayoko with us because this was a really small shop without tourist-friendly menus. The noodle soups were delcious, though, and the noodle shop proprietress was friendly and curious about us. She told us that she is learning Japanese dance, and that she wished she could talk to us. I practiced my one phrase in Japanese, "domo arigato."

Back into the cold to look at a few more temples. One of them had a preschool associated with it, and the children were just getting ready to go home for the day. As we wandered into the courtyard, some of the kids caught sight of us, and riotous shouting in English ensued. "HI! HOW ARE YOU? MY NAME IS..." was yelled over and over again, particularly by one very round-faced, cheery boy. Keegan's responses to any of this clamor provoked hysterical laughter on the part of all the children.

Since we were nearby, we decided to take a look at the famous Nagasaki "Spectacles Bridge," which is so named because it has two arches. When you look at the bridge together with its reflection, it vaguely resembles spectacles. The bridge is picturesque, but there were many other parts of Nagasaki that we found more beautiful and interesting, so we were slightly puzzled that the Spectacles Bridge is such a widely-touted tourist attraction.

The Spectacles Bridge

After the bridge, we parted ways with Joy, Todor, and Kayoko. We wanted to see the Glover Gardens, which are a touristy area commemorating the history of Dutch and other western traders and businessmen in Nagasaki. The gardens were pretty, with nice landscaping, tons of western-style houses, and ponds stocked with enormous koi. Unfortunately, though, the weather was getting pretty chilly, and we were getting pretty tired. I have to say the highlight of my visit to the gardens was a stop in the coffee shop, where we sampled "Castella," Nagasaki's traditional western-style pound cake, and Keegan had some truly delicious Dutch coffee, brewed in a very tall, and very elaborate-looking slow drip apparatus. I don't usually like coffee, but this was pretty good. It looked strong and black, but tasted as if all the bitterness had been brewed right out of it. Yum. After the gardens, we went shopping in the souvenir shops near the gardens, and I found some gifts for my students and for Glenda, and a few gifts for myself.

We had to take a quick break in the hotel room for a while at this point because we were wiped out. We wrote a few postcards, took a few deep breaths, and then headed out again to have some dinner and check out the lantern festival. We decided to get Chinese food in honor of the Lunar New Year, so we headed into Chinatown, which was absolutely packed. The poor waitresses in our restaurant were non-stop with the plates of fried rice and never-ended refills of water. We had a pretty tasty dinner with sweet and sour fish, shrimp dumplings, fried rice, and a huge bowl of champon, which is a noodle soup that is a specialty of Nagasaki. Everything was delicious.

After dinner we decided to go see a performance of Chinese acrobats. We figured out the location of the performance through careful examination of the pictures and indecipherable characters on our Japanese latern festival brochure. On our way to the stage, we ran into Joy, Todor, and Kayoko! We convinced Joy and Todor to see the acrobats perform, and we had a chance to say good-bye to Kayoko before she headed home.

The acrobats' performance was truly amazing. Fortunately, Keegan had the telephoto lens on the camera, so he documented the performance very well, and we can share the sequence of events with you on flickr (coming soon). The performance started slowly with the female acrobats spinning plates (and, far more amazingly, standing on each other's heads while they did so). Then we saw the male acrobats tumbling through small hoops raised ever higher, the women doing more routines that involved incredible strength and flexibility, and a dance where an elaborately costumed man slowly moved around the stage, magically changing the color and design of his mask with a mere flick of his wrist. (Keegan took a while to catch on to this one. About five minutes into the dance, after several unbelievable mask changes, he exclaimed "Hey! His mask is different!") The most amazing performance involved a man who held a sword in his mouth and balanced all sorts of things (including a wine glass, a balloon, and a rubber ball supporting an architectural masterpiece of martini glasses and shot glasses).

Amazing Chinese acrobat

The most amazing part was when he balanced a balloon on the edge of the sword with a beer bottle on top and then popped the balloon and caught the bottle! The grand finale featured a man who stood on his hands on top of an ever-increasing tower of chairs. We were thrilled (and a little scared).

On the way home from the hotel, we decided to try our hand in one of the pachinko parlors that lined the streets in the area near our hotel. Pachinko is basically a combination pinball and slot machine. The pachinko parlors are huge, smoky, and extremely noisy, and we had been entranced with them for the entire trip. After several false starts, we figured out how to play: you shoot small gold balls into a pinball machine which you can't really control at all. Every time a pinball falls into the right little hole, the slot machine starts rolling, and if things line up just right, you get more little gold balls. At the end of the evening, you can cash in your little gold balls for profit (if you're lucky). We were unimpressed, but apparently many citizens of Nagasaki love pachinko. We saw several very focused old women sitting in front of the machines with baskets and baskets of little gold balls stacked up underneath them.

Back in the hotel, we fell quickly into exhausted slumber. In just two days we managed to pack in just about everything there is to see and do in Nagasaki. It was a bit of a rush - I'd recommend more time there, especially in better weather. And I certainly could have eaten more Japanese food! We are hoping to get back to Japan again soon. There is an overnight ferry from Busan to Osaka, which is only thirty minutes away from the ancient capital, Kyoto. Someday soon, we'll be on it!


chrissy said...

Awesome story! I love the details and wish that we could have been with you. When I was still in Knoxville, I lived at a house that had a Pachinko (sp?) board built into the wall. I thought it was fun, but never got that into it. The "Back to the Future" pinball was much better.

Where are you guys off to next?

KIM! said...

I'm tired too but it sounds like it was amazing!