Excerpts from a letter written September of '92, months after the fact:
I think I was going to talk about Kyoto next. Specifically, the day trips. I took some notes:
Maybe I think too much about Hello Kitty. Maybe I spent too much of my time in Japan thinking about junk food. But I really, really liked this popcorn vending machine.
Since I returned from Japan, I have seen a TV commercial which shows people liking Pringles more than other brands because they come stacked in a can, not crushed in a bag. So maybe Americans can be swayed by arrangement after all. I used to laugh at Japanese ads because they were so different. Now they don't seem that different to me. American ads do much the same thing. A few nights ago, I went to see a 'movie' which was actually a bunch of ads from all over the world. And the American ones didn't seem any less silly than the others. We give Spike Lee a Technicolor basketball court to play on, we have a man who dirties and cleans laundry to classical music. If the Japanese hire a golfer to do putting tricks involving coffee cans, who am I to call that outrageous?
[Notes taken 1/13, in Kyoto, after having visited Himeji castle in the city of Himeji, which is on the shinkansen line. This was 'the finest castle in all Japan' by most counts, and the favorite one that I visited.]
Train passes are a good thing for tourists. But you can't get the really good ones while you're in Japan. So mail the JTB in SF while you're in town. I mean, it allows you to ride the shinkansen (bullet train) all over the country for free. Which is ideal if your trip is going to be like mine was - covering a lot of ground in Southern Japan. The rail pass is probably a good idea in general. But traveling by shinkansen was a great luxury. And any time I can travel luxurious while saving money, I tend to think of it as a good thing. That That sounds a bit petty, I suppose, but there you are. Another luxury that the rail pass gives you is that you don't worry so much about getting on the wrong train. I kind of suspect that if a foreigner gets on the wrong train in Japan that the conductor would send said individual on the proper path with no extra charge. But just in case you're at all worried that you might have to pay for an unwanted leg of your journey, a rail pass can give great peace of mind. On the other hand, if a trip to Japan was to never stray far from Tokyo, I suppose the rail pass might be more trouble than it was worth.
Could not figure out how to buy stamps there. Decided to keep on buying stamps at post office. I think I sent out a few post cards at this point. I seem to recall sending quite a few, actually. I remember that I had filled out notes for a bunch and was feeling short of anecdotes and inspirations. I looked at the card I had decided to send to Arlene. It showed some rocks in water. Either those off the coast of the Kinki peninsula which are supposed to suggest a procession or just some random striking rocks from the Doro-Kyo gorge. All I could think of to write was "Rocks! They got rocks in Japan!"
I don't write terribly informational or amusing postcards. My writing style, as you have no doubt noticed, tends towards the lengthy, and by the time I've filled up a postcard I'm just barely hitting my stride. It seems that the most I can effectively say in a postcard is "Well, here I am." I think other people have the same problem. All too often that's all there is to say. Should you describe the site shown by the postcard? Perhaps you haven't been there. What can you possibly say about it in such a small amount of space? You can mention low passageways, broad beams, and walls painted white, narrow ladders: choose your words carefully and you might convey a sparse description of the site.
This borders on poetry, however; the writer might be tempted to tell a lie, to describe the passageways as twisting to help convey the feeling of claustrophobia, the near horror that results when you think of people trying to pass each other within them, but in fact the passages do not twist at all. Sometimes it's enough to say "I'm here," especially if the recipient was not expecting it. Finding out that Hans had visited Hiroshima was like that. And I always send postcards to people who ask for them. I don't know what they get from them. They know where I'm going, and they get a piece of cardboard from some faraway place. But is any part of the foreign experience conveyed? Postcards are so universal.
Perhaps most traveler's goods tend to become universal. Except trains.
Himeji is a famous castle. You can see pretty pictures of it in guide books. The above photo of the castle gate is thus gratuitous. Unlike the photo of the popcorn vending machine.
I really did. After all was said and done, this was my favorite castle, perhaps my favorite single outing in all Japan. However, be careful. Someone (Hans, Jimmy?) remembers the people of Himeji as rude.
While at the castle, I ran into a group of helpful women. I was about to go along a passage leading to a courtyard when these four women came out, looked up and saw this tousle-headed foreigner. Who smiled. They smiled back. But then one of them waved her hand and said "Ikenai". Which of course means "Cannot go". I forgot the name of the courtyard, but I pointed at the direction sign and asked "<place name> e iku dekimasuka?" The answer seemed to be yes and no. But the helpful answer was no. So I thanked them, waited for them to go away and went along the passageway. And emerged into a lonely, cold courtyard in which I think a couple of sparse trees grew. There was no other way out of the courtyard. They had been telling me that I would have to backtrack. Which maybe wasn't something worth warning me about. But it was also a chance to talk with a foreigner for them. So good for them.
It was beautifully ornate, had grounds, gardens, & walls to wander. It had castle parts on display, as well as some old swords & suits of armor. At Osaka there was more in the way of armor & helmets, but Himeji also had a neat saddle and stirrups & other equipment-stuff that wasn't horse related, whose function I couldn't figure, but was just brimming with usefulness.
I'd bought one earlier, as these magazines tended to have simple words, lots of katakana, and lots of easy-to-understand pictures.
It turned out to have an article about the Ranma PC game. And an article about nudity in games-Japan having different morals & laws, there are mass-popular games with (gulp) topless goils in'em! Though no topless guys that I saw. And people ask why more women don't get into computing. And why more Japanese games don't get into the US if the graphics are really that much better.
In Kinokuniya the other day, I bought another gaming magazine. And again it had nudity. Alex seemed as surprised as I was at the concept, so perhaps I'm not as uniquely naive as I give myself credit for.
Old history and snack foods. Nudity and TV. What more could anyone ask of a country? Next time I guess I'll write up my visit to the ninja museum.
More Day Trips out of Kyoto
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