Scooter vs Japan

Silver Week Week, or Scooter’s 5 day Weekend | September 23, 2009

So the semester kicked off nicely with a 5 day weekend. The block of time, called Silver Week, is an informal term for a block of 3 holidays, Respect for the Aged Day, Autumnal Equinox Day, and Kokumin no kyūjitsu (don’t ask me what any of these mean).

So my weekend started with a trip to Kinkakuji, or the Golden Pavilion, on Saturday. The trip was led by students of the English Studies Society, a campus club, who’s members go to temples and other sites and give tours. It was a really nice trip, since the last time I was in Kyoto, the temple was being renovated and could not be seen. Among the highlights of the trip include a billion photos and minutes of video, recorded explanations (via the club members) about the various sites within the temple’s walls, and a wonderful walk through the temple’s gardens and lakes. The trip concluded with a trip to the gift shop, where I bought some small rosaries and a book called “How to Practice Zazen,” and a pit stop at the temple’s Shinto department. I will point out, for the Asian impaired, that temples are of Buddhist use, while Shinto, an indigenous “religion” in Japan, resides in shrines. However, there is a lot of cross pollination. Also in the trip was a trip to the “Big Boy” restaurant, where we ate strange hamburger dishes served like steaks, and rode a Kyoto bus for longer than I’d rather think about.

Sunday was an interesting day. I volunteered for a campus open house at KGU (my school) directed at potential high school students. KGU, being an international school, wanted a bunch of foreigners to show off their countries and confuse the high school students with our linguistic mastery of English. All the while, I was waving over students, who were shy and bombarded with colors and white people, and greeted them using Japanese Sign Language (which I am learning in my “Body and Communication” class). Suddenly, it was a trap! One of the parents started signing back to me. As it turns out, his younger daughter is deaf, and so he knows Japanese Sign Language. All in all, it was a fun day, and I was given a KGU t-shirt as thanks. I will later use this t-shirt in pimping the school when I get back to Canada.

Following the adventures at school, a few friends and I headed out for a quick meal. One friend and I talked about campus involvement, where he pitched the idea of starting a sort of Students’ Union at KGU for international students. Being a bureau-hack, I was sold instantly. After supper, most of us headed back to my dorm to play a game of Settlers of Catan. This would be, I think, the third game I’ve played with my own copy, and the first I’ve played using some small expansions I grabbed. In much annoyance, and something that is probably a miracle, I won the game (just barely). After that, we pulled out Pandemic, and played a few rounds of that. We won the first game, which was an easier difficulty level, and got served badly in the rest.

Monday saw some light travel, with me heading into Namba to meet a teacher-friend of mine and play some Warhammer. Namba is a shopping district in Osaka, not unlike Tokyo’s Akihabara. Both districts are completely messed up, riddled with Maid Cafes (if you don’t know what they are, please don’t ask. It’s weird), and some cool nerd stuff like model and toy stores, and a bunch of gaming stores. The games went well. I won both, but only after disgusting casualties. Necron armies (what I was playing) are lame and cheesy. The brighten the day further, my reserved copy of a board game called Space Hulk came in, and I blew a large stack of money on that. I planned to spend it already, so all is fine. After that, the two of us did a bit of shopping and mocking the locals, including some 4 Maid Cafes that were all next to each other, and then headed home for the night.

Tuesday was a slow but busy day. My friend’s host family invited a bunch of us to go and have a picnic with them. The morning started out with a few hours of forum reading, followed by me rushing out the door to the picnic without eating anything (this is important later). The host sister picked us up in her car and drove us out to Hirakata Park, where the picnic was to take place. It was a little unusual, because the picnic was not really in the park, but underneath a bridge that ran over it. I’ve seen this before, and the explanation was something about not wanting to make the park messy. So we do a round of introductions, shot some pictures, and start with a round of drinks. I claimed Strong Seven, a 7% beer that Host Dad brought. I was excited because Japanese beer is usually on the 4-5% side, so a good stiff drink made me feel at home (complete with the raiding of a large park). Remember that part about not eating anything? That caught up real fast, and I had to slow down with the drinking for the rest of the day (which included Strong Seven, a carbonated Plum Wine, and some Whiskey and Club Soda, which I couldn’t finish). The food was great, although a little odd (like taking these tiny hot dogs and putting 2 of them onto this huge bun. Also strange Asian desserts).

Today (Wed), I headed to Kyoto again to visit Eiga-mura, the Toei Studio Movie Park. English words can’t really explain what Eiga-mura is. Toei is a large Japanese film studio, which makes, among other things, Sentai (Costumed Task Force shows), Metal Hero shows (similar to Sentai, but without the team of heroes concept), and Jidaigeki (of Samurai dramas). The park is the Kyoto film studio for the company (I believe its largest). It is also the sight of a recreated Edo-period town, with a ton of buildings and streets. On top of all of that, the park also had live performances (one including a Samurai who violated the hell of of the fourth wall by stopping mid show for photos, complete with the Japanese finger V sign), period actors, and a number of small museums and attractions. The first museum we went into was the Super Hero museum, which was a gallery of costumes and props from several of Toei’s Sentai and Metal Hero shows. One display included almost all of the Red rangers, dating back to the creation of Sentai and Super Sentai (the display appeared to be missing the last 2 years of Sentai Reds, although these shows were represented elsewhere). I also f*ing peed myself when I say this. I’m a huge Tokusatsu (Special Effects/Sci-Fi) fan, and I was able to see a bunch of familiar characters up close. Also, I was able to snap a few good shops of how the helmets are worn (a latch system I’d read about), which shall serve me well as a prop builder. That part of the park ended with a 3D ride, where we went back in time to (presumably) the Edo period, and witnessed a Sentai battle.

Other attractions of the park were a bunch of gaudy Ninja and Samurai-themed gift shops, where I failed to acquire the right kind of tacky souvenir, and a haunted house. The house was scare and amusing as hell, and was themed after some kind of supernatural massacre in this estate. One of the Japanese guys who came with us struck me as this macho-nothing-scares-me type. As soon as we entered the house, he demanded that I go in front so he could hide behind me. While he and the other were getting scared shitless, my attention was focused on where we were going, and trying to figure out which thing on the floor was going to reach up and grab me. Aside from the cheap scares of people jumping out at us, there were a lot of really good techniques used. Lighting was often played with, which gave the feeling of lanterns and candles that wouldn’t stay lit. Also, some doors were closed or partly closed, giving a air of mystery and suspense. Some of the spots rocked or weaved, further adding to the illusion. It was really well done. There were a bunch of other cool little bits, including a walk past 2 of the studios, a robot dinosaur head that pokes out of the water and hisses, and this weird mountain that turned into a smiling head as is rose. Unfortunately, didn’t get a picture of that until after the head descended. After we left, I was reading a pamphlet they gave us, and it said that there were some movie technique classes (little drop in deals, probably not actual classes), ad bunch of other shows, and a large sized gift shop that we didn’t go into. The pamphlet also said that Toei still films at the studio, which is pretty cool. I’m not sure how they juggle productions and crowds. I think I’m going to have to come back at least once to get in the rest of the park.

It’s now 9pm, and I’m blogging because I don’t want to do my homework. Also, if I didn’t write this now, I probably never would. School starts anew tomorrow, where I have a small test, will learn some more sign language, and then have a regular weekend. Highlights of the coming weekend include going to the Kyoto Handicraft Centre to learn how to wood block print, a return visit to the Heian Shrine, where I went during orientation, more damning of Hello Kitty, who is completely evil and sinister, and hounding my friends to bet naked with me and go to a bath house.

By for now. I’ll try to figure out how to upload pictures soon so you can witness the madness of my weekend (mostly Kinkakuji and Eiga-mura).

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Posted in Gaming, Living

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About author

Scooter is an ESL teacher and Japanese anthropologist. He hopes to document his thoughts of living in Japan, continued cultural studies, and to provide advice for others looking to hop the pond.

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