23 October 2005

That's Right: Japan!

In October of 2005 I went on an ill-fated and oft forgot trip to Japan with the UW Husky Marching Band. It wasn't so much ill-fated as I just didn't enjoy it all that much. But enough about that. We went to march in the Midosuji Parade, which is Osaka's version of the Rose Parade. About 130 of the 400 band members went for a total of 7 days of whirlwind traveling around Japan. Because of the international date line, on the way over we lost a day completely, but we got back only 30 minutes after we left on the return trip. We stayed mainly in Osaka, but also did 3 nights of home stay in Himi, a small coastal town, and a day trip to Kyoto to see a few temples. Here's the daily rundown and pictures.

We arrived in Osaka after one of the worst and bumpiest flights I've ever experienced. We had to fly around the southern tip of Japan to land on this man-made island where the Airport is built and it was UGLY. But they did have a welcome committee, albeit a small one. The airport was built just like a mall, with lots of shops and eateries. We had some time to walk around while waiting for the buses to arrive, and this is when we experienced the first real look at Japanese culture-AND FOOD! All of the restaurants have plastic mods of their food displayed at the front of the restaurant. Some thought it was helpful, since you could just point at what you wanted. I thought it was creepy, and for the most part shied away from Japanese food during the trip.

The first night we stayed at a hotel in Osaka, which was desinged for the traveling businesman, and housed one-person to a teeny tiny room. Here was the sign next to my bed:

And the view from my room:

On day 2, we got up REALLY early to go to a practice facility in the foothills. The hotel had a continental breakfast, that included the likes of ham, bacon, AND french fries. Now I like my salt as much as the next girl, but HOLY SALTINESS! I think if Japan were to have an official country spice, it would be SALT!

The practice facility was really pretty, located up in the foothills. As you can see, in addition to being very green it was also very smoggy.

After practice, we were taken to a mall to shop around for a while. A LOONG while. We wandered around by the pier and gazed longingly at the inoperable Ferris wheel. They have a BIG obsession with Ferris wheel's in Japan, but more on that later.

Being the poor sport that I am and given my distaste for Sushi, I found some equally lame people and went to eat at Ye Ol' Spaghetti Factory! (but seriously, look at this food! it's like "let's play a game - what IS IT?" You can't blame me for not wanting to eat it) I can honestly say it's the best pasta I've ever had! And it was a really fun experience, because NO ONE spoke English, so it was pretty much hit or miss on the food. Plus they just kept bringing us bread basket after bread basket....after eating three we made sure to pay and leave! We couldn't eat any more bread, but not knowing the bread customs, we didn't want to be rude Americans either!

Day 3 was the Parade. Luckily, we didn't have to be ready too early, so a few of us wandered around near the hotel. We walked by this Temple that was actually in an episode of The Amazing Race this past week! Too bad I don't have a picture of me there!

For the ensuing hours I have three words: Hot Miserable Mess. We arrived back at the Hotel to change into our uniforms. Then we had to walk to the starting area, where they sent us to a "warm-up area". As you can see, this sand-lot area also served as a tent city. Yes, it was smelly there too
Even though it was mid-October, it was VERY hot and humid. It was made especially uncomfortable by our three layer wool/polyester uniforms. Trying to go to the bathroom in those was quite the undertaking. Most of the toilets in Japan, including Port-a-Potties, are squattie potties, i.e. a hole in the ground. I don't want to go into too much detail, but just imagine us poor girls, having to take off and hold our band jackets AND the pant suspenders while somehow maintaining our balance. Yeah. Not fun.

During the parade we were provided with these Mizo (water in Japanese) girls who carried around these Miss Kitty straw water bottles. Not ideal for a bunch of thirsty Americans. Eventually they started passing REAL water bottles through the ranks.

In total, the parade was only about 3 miles and took a little over an hour. But in Husky Band, we go all out all the time with choreography while we march, so we were WORN OUT. It was time to party!

After a showers and naps, a group of us headed out to find the Hard Rock Cafe that we had marched by earlier. Our quest was successful, and Jimmy here rewarded himself with a HUGE glass of Budweiser, which also came with this giant bucket. He was wondering why all the commotion, until he saw the bill! Yeah, Bud is in import in Japan! So he paid for that bucket, but he looks pretty happy, it was probably worth it. Another interesting thing: on the menu they had a Chimichanga listed under the section "Japanese Specialties". Yeah pretty sure last time I checked Chimichangas did NOT originate in Japan....

Day 4ish: We headed off to a coastal town of Himi for three nights of house stays. I always sleep on bus rides, so I'm not sure how long it took, but here is a picture of everyone on the bus: Not quite what we're used to. You can see the middle, or JUMP, seat, that folds out from the other seat. I made sure to push in against a window!

I can't remember the series of days anymore, but while we were in Himi we participated in a marching competition and a parade through the small sea-side town. We did home stays for three days, which was interesting. The shower was simply a faucet over the whole bathroom with a drain in the middle of the floor. It was also difficult since we spoke barely any Japanese! We did discover their version of Peanut Butter though, and I'll freely admit it is MUCH better than ours. Here is room I stayed in with Cindy, another Clarinet player, the nights in Himi: .

We had a competition at this big outdoor "fair"-esque area. I think perhaps it was a site for the Worlds Fair because they had this HUGE winged animal thing soaring over everyone. I thought it was creepy. You can judge for yourself.

There was a lot of down time during the competition. Many of us were bored, but it was rainy and gross so there was nowhere to nap. We got together with one of the other bands and they "decorated" one of the Picc players as their mascot. It was...err...interesting. There was also a band from Hawaii present. Not only were we excited to see some other English speakers, but they had brought Lei's with them! We brought pencils that said UW. Not a fair trade, but for the rest of the trip we all kept joking that we got Lei'd in Japan! We also visited a school to practice with a band we'd be playing with in a concert. These kids were GOOD! This 7th grader was a better clarinet player than I could ever DREAM of being. But we taught them the most important lesson of all: How to make a "W" with your hand, i.e. the official representation of UW!

While in Himi we also marched in a Parade. Here I am sitting with the crowd watching the other band perform. It was REALLY windy that day and i'm surprised no one lost a Shako! (that's a marching band hat for those of you not hip with the lingo).

After our final night in Himi, we headed to Kyoto for a quick day trip and then on to Osaka for our last night in Japan. First we stopped at the Kiyomizu-Dera Buddhist Temple. THIS is how I had imagined Japan, but of course I'm sure it was ridiculously touristy to them. The temple was at the top of a skinny, windy street filled with shops selling all things Japanese. I bought a beautiful chop-stick set for my mom along with some other nick-nacks.

When we got to the hill the 100+ band members lined up on the stairs to take a group picture with the temple in the background. However, more amusing was the group of Japanese that assembled to WATCH us take a photo. It was like they had never seen such a big group of Americans before! Here are a few temple shots: The red is to represent tomb stones of stillborn babies. Sad.

After the first temple, we went to see the Golden Temple, which is nestled in among a very well maintained garden. And boy is is GOLD!

But there were LOTS of insects crawling around...oh and Koi fish. The fish I liked, the spider, which it's hard to get perspective, was the size of my thumb, and that I didn't take so kindly to. There were huge webs all over the place too, as you can see it's strung out between some mammoth trees!

For our last night in Japan, what else could we have feasted on but KFC? I know what you're thinking: "Shame on you Kristina!" But what YOU don't know is in Japan, KFC is practically a delicacy. So is Pizza Hut! People get seriously dressed-up to go to these places to eat. So really, we were "experiencing" true Japanese culture/traditions. Ha!

Later in the night, Katie and i went up in a Ferris Wheel! It was really scary because not only was it night time, but the base of the Ferris Wheel is on top of an 8-story building! But we braved it, and got some pretty cool pictures from inside! After that a bunch of us went out drinking. NOt this Egg Alcohol though, eww.

We got lost in the underground subway system but still managed to have a GREAT time! To be extra abnoxioius, we also did a fair amount of "loitering". There were TONS of NO LOITERING signs, so of course we had to break some rules!

The next day we weren't feeling too hot, but luckily we had two Thursday's to recover (since we got that day twice on the way back) so Thursday II was much better than Thursday I. After many long flights, we were very glad to be back!