Monday, February 25, 2008

私の手当たり次第の Weekend

This past weekend found me engaged in the following activities:

- Getting attacked by wild deer;
- Paying $12 USD for a potato;
- Squeezing my way through a giant Buddha's nostril;
- Losing 1,000 yen in approximately four minutes in a Japanese pachinko parlor; and
- Running out of money and being forced to eat at a Japanese Subway Restaurant.

Random? Yes. That's why this post title translates as "My Random Weekend." (I think. Kanji are still hard.)

But what made these activities even more random was the fact that I was accompanied by a friend, a friend -- we'll call him "C" -- from my undergraduate days who I hadn't seen in six years. It's random that we'd meet again in Japan after all this time, especially considering that he is currently working in Korea. C was on a two-week vacation from his gig in Seoul, so we decided to catch up in Osaka.

Randomness aside, it was nice to have a partner in crime for the weekend's craziness.

C and I descended on Osaka's Dotombori district on Friday night. Dotombori is an open-24-hours maze of neon lights, love hotels and overpriced drinks. Japan's answer to Las Vegas, if you will. We caught up over a few cocktails and then joined the masses in the street, taking in the sights: endless arcades filled with video games (American games will catch up by 2080 or so), multi-story pachinko (pinball machines - gambling is illegal in Japan) parlors shaped like pirate ships, and parades of literally thousands of teenage Japanese fashion victims, dressed in crazy Engrish t-shirts and mini skirts, despite the February chill (and ostensibly making up for their lack of season-appropriate clothing with gobs of hairspray).

We ate. We drank. We were merry. We lost 1,000 yen in 4 minutes. 'Nuf said.

Saturday morning found us recovering from Dotombori's sensory overload in a more tranquil setting. We took the train to nearby Nara, Japan's first capitol city, which is now home to 1,200 wild (and -- as we'd find out -- very hungry) deer. Excited to woo some deer for photo opps, C bought some cookies, and, instead of feeding just one or two, promptly drew a crowd of nearly 15 hungry hoofed friends. When the cookies ran out, the cuddly deer pulled a Jekyll and Hyde and started gnawing on our coats. Scary.

Deer aside, Nara's crowd pleaser is Daibutsuden, home of a 437 ton Buddha statue. Legend has it that if you can squeeze through the Buddha's nostril, you'll achieve enlightenment. Lest tourists be climbing on centuries-old statue, temple keepers have conveniently re-created a same-sized hole in a post at ground level. As you can see in the photo above, I made it through, but enlightenment certainly isn't pretty.

Squeezing through nostrils made me hungry, so I couldn't pass up a sweet potato cart outside the temple. However, as I continue to be blissfully illiterate when it comes to kanji, I misread the sign that showed the price for the potatoes. Instead of paying 200 yen per spud, as I'd originally thought when I overzealously ordered a large potato with the intent of sharing it with C, the price was actually 200 yen per 100 ounces. The vendor sold me the largest sweet potato known to man -- a 1,200 yen (almost $12 USD) monster that we couldn't finish and ended up feeding to the deer (which were still gnawing at my coat). Expensive deer treat.

Osaka Again
Sunday found us taking in more sights in the city, via a tour of the world-famous Osaka Aquarium, a trip to Osaka Castle, and a view of the city from the top of the Umeda Sky Building. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

But by the time Sunday night rolled around, I'd run out of money (damn potato! damn pachinko!) and couldn't find an ATM machine that would accept my inaka Fukui bank card. So, C and I were forced to scrape together our remaining yen and dine at Japan's mecca of gourmet goodness: Subway. Not surprisingly, the Japanese subs come with shrimp and all sorts of fresh-from-the-sea oddities. Sadly, Jared is nowhere to be found, but the J-Subway does have french fries! Eat Fresh.

So ended yet another random Japanese weekend. Here's hoping it doesn't take C and I six years to do it again.

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