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Journey to the Middle Kingdom

July 22, 2009

(Originally Published 28/09/2007)

Last weekend I went to Nagoya with Willy to visit Michael.  We had to switch trains at Tambabashi to get on the Kintetsu Line and it was a little confusing at first but we found Nagoya on the board and paid the fare.  I got a “triangular” bread from a bread shop which was actually a donut with whipped cream inside.  It was fantastic.  We hopped on a train to Nara and had to transfer at another station to a different line.  Well, we accidentally hopped on a Limited Express train and we didn’t realize that we would have to spend an extra 500 yen to ride it. More...We rode it to the next station and then we had to wait an hour for the next train to Nagoya.  It turns out the only train going to Nagoya is the Limited Express train and it costs an extra 1000 yen to ride that.  All in all we spent about 4000 yen and it took about six and a half hours.  We could have spent 5400 yen and hopped on the shinkansen (bullet train) and been there in less than an hour.  Oh well, it was very beautiful country and I was really happy to see open space, huge rice paddies, and even an uncontrolled river.  We passed through some mountains too and they were very beautiful and I was happy to see some smaller communities as well.

Anyway, we arrived at Nagoya Station and it was huge!  There were people everywhere and Nagoya Station felt kind of like an ant hill with tunnels leading off in all directions.  There are two huge towers above the station with hotels and department stores and there is a mall under the station that goes under the street and connects to another huge building full of shops and movie theaters and restaurants.  It really was like a giant colony of interconnected tubes.  Also – THERE WERE BAKERIES EVERYWHERE!  Man, I’m crazy about Japanese bakeries.  I called Michael on the dreaded green pay phones and told him where we were and that we’d be hanging out above the exit for one of the subway lines.  I bought a pancake wrapped up in a tube-shape and filled with anko (red bean paste) and custard.  It was fantastic.  We crouched down, gaijin style, at the top of the stairs and watched the masses passing by.  We watched a police man trying to wake up a man who had passed out in the middle of the sidewalk.  He kept shaking him and saying, “Sir, please wake up!  You can’t sleep here.”  Eventually the guy woke up and got up and left but it was pretty strange.  Willy spotted a pair of mannequin heads just sitting in the middle of everything and went over to take a photograph of them.  Another homeless man came up to him and pointed at a single yen coin in his hand.  “Sorry, I don’t have any money, ” said Willy in Japanese.  The man patted his belly and looked imploringly at Willy.  “Yes, I’m hungry too.”  The guy stuck a finger in his mouth, turned around, and quietly walked off without ever saying a word.  Some other gaijin kept moving the mannequin heads around to different places and we’re not really sure who brought them there in the first place.  A group of Japanese people was standing by the street corner with ‘Free Hugs’ signs.  An incredible array of flashy hairstyles and clothing paraded by.  I pulled out my Jew’s harp for a little while and then practiced some juggling while waiting for Michael.  We finally found Michael and we explored some of the arcades in downtown Nagoya.  We went to Mr. Donut and I was interested to find out all the foods they serve there other than donuts.  They have some pretty amazing donuts but they also have hotdogs wrapped in croissants or sweet potato pie or ham and cheese pie and even nikuman (steamed meat buns).  We went to a curry shop and I experienced some dissatisfaction when I was unable to understand what the waitress was asking me.  I finally understood that she was asking me how much rice I wanted with my curry.  Ugh, it was very discouraging.

We went to Hibino and checked out the campus where Michael is going to school.  It’s pretty nice and is actually brand new.  Nagoya Gakuin was originally a Christian school and it still has a Christian influence so there is a chapel on campus.  This is interesting because right next to campus are a bunch of Greek symbols of male, female, male-female, and other such things on poles.  Campus is right next to the Congress Center which looks like the giant building from Gotham City in Batman.  We were poking around and walking through there in the dark when we came upon a giant white statue of a horse with a man on top.  It’s huge!  The area around NGU is pretty nice and quiet.  It felt more like country than Kansai Gaidai even though there still weren’t really “trees.”  There’s a nice river that runs right by and a park with a pond and some docks where the locals go fishing.  It was fun to meet the other ryuugakusei (international students) and Michael lives in a cool apartment with a guy from Tennessee.  His roommate’s pretty cool and we got to see Ryan again (another classmate from Pacific) and that was really great.

The next day we went to the 7-11 for breakfast and almost got run over by a little kid on a bike.  “Haro!” he said.  “Hi!” we said.  We talked in Japanese for awhile and he tagged along with us to the 7-11.  I bought him a drink and he sat out in front of the 7-11 with us and we talked for awhile.  We wanted to go to the arcade so I asked if he wanted to come along.  He did and I had a pretty good time talking with him.  He wants to be a yakuza when he grows up.  I believe he could do it; he’s got the right attitude.  Anyway, we played some games together and then we went to eat at an okonomiyaki restaurant.  It turns out the kid knew the owners and they brought out a huge slab of bacon for us as a present.  We cooked it along with our okonomiyaki on the grill in the tabletop and it was a delicious meal.  Afterwards, we went back to Michael’s place and played some video games with the kid for awhile.  “Where’d you get the kid?” asked one of the other international students.  “Isn’t that called kidnapping?” asked another student in Japanese.  Well, I wasn’t really sure how to get rid of this kid.  It seemed he just wanted to hang out with us all day.  We decided to leave and go to Nagoya so Michael and Willy could buy denshi jishos (electronic dictionaries) at Bic Camera.  We left the kid at the station and went to Nagoya.  The top floor of Bic Camera is really crazy and is totally just a random collection of things.  We juggled in front of the station for awhile and then we walked around a bit and found a huge arcade.  I found the Sangokushi Taisen machines and enjoyed looking at how cool that game is.  It’s a card game where you can move your cards around on a table that senses them and it moves your armies on the computer screen in front of you.  It’s based on the battle of the three kingdoms of ancient China.  We watched Michael play Keyboard Mania and then Michael played the most amazing game I’ve ever witnessed on a scrolling shooter game where you fly a space ship around and destroy giant beetles that are shooting purple blobs at you.  Michael did some things that seemed impossible and was playing on the ultra super hard mode and it was incredible to watch him narrowly escaping death every moment.  After that we went outside and found a giant marble statue with real live grass and a tree growing out of the top of it.  There was a giant video screen high up on the building that housed the arcade (7 floors of arcade!) and a video for a game called Quest of D was playing on it.  It looked really cool because you get to move cards around on a tabletop (like Sangokushi Taisen) but you can also tap the screen with your finger and equip your warriors with armor and weapons and stuff and then travel around and fit skeleton armies and hordes of snake people.

Back at the station, a Latin American group was playing a gig on the sidewalk and selling their CDs to passersby.  It was really good music and I would have bought a CD if it didn’t cost 3000 yen.  CDs and DVDS are really expensive over here (but books are pretty cheap!).  As we were watching the band, a green bug landed on my shirt.  I was wearing a green shirt and it blended in almost perfectly so Willy wanted to take a picture.  The bug kept hopping away at just the wrong moment and all of a sudden it leaped and landed on his glasses.  A couple of Japanese women behind us shrieked and giggled as he took off his glasses and handed them to me so I could hold it for him while he took a picture – and then the bug jumped ONTO THE LENS OF THE CAMERA!  This was too much for the Japanese ladies and they shrieked and giggled and fanned themselves with their shopping bags.  We talked to them for awhile and found out that one of them was an alumnus from Kansai Gaidai and lived near Hirakata and had relatives who teach at the university or something like that.  What a crazy coincidence.

We took the shinkansen back from Nagoya and that was much better.  It’s really comfortable, fast, and quiet.  Anyway, that’s all I’m going to write for now.  It’s been a busy week.  I’ll write more soon.

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