Saturday, October 15, 2011

Kansai by the Seat of my Pants

I’m going to start by saying I don’t really know the origin of that phrase, “by the seat of one’s pants.” I’m sure I could look it up on my smart phone, since we’re not in a tunnel right now, but I don’t really care quite enough to go to the effort.

The smart phone: a note on that, a new character as of September 14th or so, and a vital player in my ability to do anything by the seat of my pants. I lost my phone in the first big typhoon in early September, and after doing a little math and considering the benefits, I decided to replace it with an upgrade. I now don’t know how I managed without it. Actually, I do. I was late a lot, and lost even more often than that. It’s a great comfort to me now to know as I run out the door to catch the bus that I can look up train times from the bus ride itself, making use of that two hours for something other than drooling (while I sleep with my head tilted back and mouth open).

So as mentioned before, my plans for the three-day weekend of September 16th-19th were also typhooned out in the form of major damage especially to the area in Wakayama I was planning to visit. The weekend of the 23rd-25th, we were planning to go up to Tottori and attend the Ji BeerFest Daisen there on Autumnal Equinox Day (I love, by the way, that we get that day off as a holiday).

So, planless, I somehow decided not to make any new real plans, and just go with the flow. I knew Shiso was going clubbin’ in Osaka on Saturday night, and I knew the Italian and his brother (hereforward, the Mario Brothers) would be in Kyoto area, and I knew that Kyoto and Osaka were a stone’s throw from one another, so I figured I’d just throw some walkin shoes and some clubbin clothes in a bag and call it a weekend.

In my head, the ideal thing was going to be spend Saturday night in Osaka with the gang, then head into Kyoto on Sunday to hang out with the Mario Brothers and Nami-san, spending Sunday night with Nami. Monday I could make my way back to Shiso whenever it seemed good to go (there are only four direct buses, so, you know..).

But as it happened, Nami-san was making an awesome sukiyaki dinner on Saturday night, and was going to be unable to host me on Sunday. Way to like, inform people of your brilliant have-it-all schemes, Lemmon. So I shrugged and figured I would just miss out on clubbin’ because I was pretty guaranteed to enjoy dinner with Nami and Hiroshi and the Mario Brothers. I can go clubbin’ any old weekend. I took along a short skirt just in case, and told Shiso not to wait up for me.

Got to Kyoto station a little before the group I was meeting, so I set myself up at the counter overlooking the central gate and started to play with my new phone. I figured that while I was in Kyoto, I could hit up one of the temples on the pilgrimage. I had wanted to do them In Order, but I figured I might never get finished if I didn’t get started soon. I used some sweet features on google maps (it’s an android phone, because I’m AU and because I <3 google, the benevolent rulers of all the world) to discover that there was one temple within walking distance of the station. I looked it up on (the source, by the way, of basically every bit of help I have on this pilgrimage idea) and discovered that the temple is tied really strongly to Seiganto-ji, the first temple of the pilgrimage.

It’s called Imakumano Kannon-ji, “ima” meaning “now” or “present,” and “Kumano” being the name of the shrine connected to the first temple (the one that I linked photos of, all washed out). Kannon being the name of the major Bodhisattva we’re going to 33 temples to see, and ji just meaning temple. It turns out the temple in Kyoto a half hour’s walk from the station is in many ways an old stand-in for the first temple. You can read more about it here, and see some sweet photos. Reading about it in the station, I was warmed and floored. I like to think that omens are something, and this seemed pretty awesome as they go.

Then the group arrived, and we headed out toward the homestead for dinner. Alessandro (the younger of the Mario Brothers, and a resident of Tokyo) had brought along some sake from a brewery that no longer exists, that he received while volunteering in Tohoku, and Nami had me “make” the sukiyaki. Actually she put everything in the pan and instructed me to stir, then took photos that make it look like I am a great cook. We dined happily and sipped wine and chatted, and I so enjoyed their company.

The Brothers consume natto, because it's a must-try for any brave soul.
From Kansai by the Seat

As the hour drew near for the brothers to depart, I assured myself that an early bedtime would be good for me, and I could get up the next morning refreshed, unlike what I would have been if I had gone dancing… but part of me itched to get out and move and flail and generally go maenad. I told it to shut up just as Nami was saying, “If you go now, you can make the last train to Namba.”

So without knowing I was going to Osaka til I was on my way, I headed out the door with the rest of them, headed to more of my adventure.

I hit Namba rather late, and used my new phone to navigate the streets of Osaka, dropping my stuff off at the capsule hotel where “we” always stay (there was no one but me, this time, as the others were staying elsewhere), quickly throwing on something more appropriate to the evening’s plan (“slut it up,” as one might have said, once), and finding my way to the place that had been chosen. It was called “Jaws,” and although I was disappointed that we weren’t going to the legendary and disgusting Pure, the undersea theme of the place suited me just fine. It was crowded beyond reason and I was sad I had worn flip-flops until I managed to get onto a stage with Liz. I liked it better there because there was a lot less getting run over happening, and a lot less stepping on my feet. We danced the night away, or I did until my knees started to complain rather loudly to me. When I felt ready, I took myself back to my capsule to wash the club sludge off my poor toes and catch a few precious winks in my bed-sized room.

I’m struck even now by how independently I moved through this whole night, joining and leaving the group when I liked. I realize that this would not be safe in most countries, including my own. My first trip to Osaka, I was married to the group, unable to even begin to guess where I was, let alone march confidently back to my room, giving catcallers the evil eye as I went.

If you shake his hand, you get a free bag full of clover.
From Kansai by the Seat

Check out time is ten, unfortunately, and after grabbing breakfast and attempting to charge my phone, I met Lauren, Katie, and Kam for a brief lunch in Osaka Station City. I then trained it back to Kyoto and walked to the temple I had read about, Imakumano Kannon-ji. I had intentions to meet up with the Mario Brothers that afternoon, but the temple excursion took considerably longer than I planned (as these things often do), so I ended up not meeting them til almost dinner time. I was thinking I would be on the 7:20 bus back to Shiso (the last bus), because I’d called the hostel I like most in Kyoto and they were booked.

But Yasaka's gate looked read nice in the evening light.
From Kansai by the Seat
Unable to find a quick enough dinner, and settling for combini beers in the park in front of city hall (it’s always back to combini beers in the park.. some things do not change), Alessandro suggested a different hostel, and within ten minutes I had a room. I was dragging by then for lack of sleep, but we decided to all freshen up and then get a nice sit-down dinner somewhere.

From Kansai by the Seat

At least one of us is happy about this arrangement...
From Kansai by the Seat
I hauled myself to the hostel and back out again, and once more I greatly enjoyed the dinner company and conversation. I returned to the hostel, watered the potted plant I’d been given in Osaka station (I don’t even know) by some campaign, and conked out.

Monday, finding a coin locker took the better part of forever, so I met up with the brothers near Ryoan-ji after they had finished seeing it, and we wandered through another large temple complex in the nearby area. We also visited one of my favorite shops (across from Ryoan-ji), and it was a nice laid-back afternoon.

I thought the pair of shoes at lower left was really poignant. That is, I believe, one of those mizuko things I mention in another post.
From Kansai by the Seat

Kyoto station was full of music that evening for some kind of band presentation, or competition, or performance. The air on the roof of the station was chill and lovely. I took the 7:20 bus home.

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