Category Archives: JAPAN 2013

Mezurashii Dumbo – OR – A Weekend with Ayumi, Part 1

This weekend I got to see my sister/best friend Ayumi in Osaka. We hadn’t seen each other for about 6 years, but picked up right where we left off.P1000868

We had an awesome weekend, starting with a trip to Namba and some fucking bomb ass ramen:

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After lunch and shopping, Ayumi escorted me to D Salon…

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My stylist was the sweetest lady, and was extremely patient with my subpar Japanese and the fact that I had no idea how to describe the kind of haircut I wanted. She must have read my mind, and gave me the exact kind of bangs I’ve wanted for a while.

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I’ve been trying to get bangs in the states for a couple years, but everyone I go to has told me it’s a terrible idea, and it would make my face look fat. Fuck those guys, bangs are so much fun.

That night we met up with one of Ayumi’s coworkers and friends, who we called Asakawa-san. I tried my best to speak Japanese while we were out and about– but I’m so used to speaking English with Ayumi that I had a really hard time making it happen. Other than the weekend we spent together, I’ve only been speaking Japanese, but that night I had a lot of trouble. Add the fact that Ayumi and Asakawa were speaking Osaka-ben, which is basically a completely different dialect from what we learned in school, and I was mentally exhausted within a few hours. But first, we went to the Ebisu Matsuri celebration at a nearby shrine.

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I’m kind of unclear about the details of Ebisu Matsuri, but it has something to do with local businesses. We got o-mikugi (fortunes) at the shrine – I had already got one at Fushimi in Kyoto, and gotten daikichi (the best possible fortune), so I didn’t want to tempt fate again, but Ayumi and Asakawa got theirs.

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After the Matsuri we had an amazing meal of yakisoba, okonomiyaki, and monjayaki, prepared at our table. It was awesome.P1000962

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We ate everything. Duh.

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After dinner we did puricura — for the uninitiated, it’s like western photo booths, but you get to draw all over the photos and add funny hats and stuff. Also, they zero in on your eyes and enlarge them, whether you want that or not, which is interesting to say the least.

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Stay tuned for the rest of the weekend…. for now, it’s bed time for Mezurashii-Dumbo

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A few photos of Nishiki Market

Well, ladies and gentlemen, the second 24 hours in Kyoto have been just as entertaining as the first. After I posted I went to Nishiki Market, which is several blocks of the most amazing food stands I’ve ever seen. The market has been running for hundreds of years, and there were lots of free samples to partake in. I was a very happy Kate.

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Sooooo many kinds of tamago yaki

Sooooo many kinds of tamago yaki

The Pickle Rainbow

The Pickle Rainbow

These fish were still kickin

These fish were still kickin

I'm not sure what this is called, but it was delicious

I’m not sure what this is called, but it was delicious

Takoyaki for 100 yen.

Takoyaki for 100 yen.

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After going back to the hostel for a much needed nap, I hightailed it over to Nijo Castle. It was pretty breathtaking — stay tuned for photos!


Hello Kyoto

Hey Internet!

It’s my first day in Kyoto. I’m already in love with the place. I got in last night around 6, and decided that instead of looking at a map of where my hostel was, like a normal person would, I would instead wing it with the little hand drawn map I had jotted down on the plane. Of course, I also decided I would go to an entirely different train station than the one I had made directions from. So after a long subway ride (the conductor finally told me I was on the local, when I really wanted to be on the express) I got out at Kawaramachi Station. It’s a 3 minute walk to my hostel, but I didn’t know that at the time.

Fast forward two hours and several inquiries for directions later, I arrive at Khaosan Kyoto Guest House.

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This is the first time I’ve stayed in a hostel, but something tells me this is a really good one. The people working here are awesome, the common room (where I’m currently watching a women’s basketball game and drinking tea) is lovely, and my bed is surprisingly comfortable and private. My first meal in Japan consisted of a cigarette I bummed from a drunk guy from Shikoku outside and an Onigiri I consumed in bed.Image

I’m seriously jet lagged, so I woke up at 6:30 this morning and decided to go out for breakfast. It was a beautiful morning, way warmer than NYC has been lately.

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I had breakfast in a little kissaten called “Holly’s Cafe” that’s right around the corner. It was awesome. They were playing a fantastic mix of music, including Elvis and a Japanese version of Earth Angel. I had a latte and a pastry that was called “The Steambun of Corncream”. How can you say no to that?

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After breakfast I went across the bridge into Gion, on my way to Yasaka Jinja. It was around 8am, so the streets were empty. P1000360

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Yasaka Jinja was fucking awesome. They were still getting ready for the day, and I was pretty much the only non-staff person around.

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P1000424To be honest, I’m not sure where the Yasaka grounds ended and the city began. All of a sudden I realized that the buildings I was passing weren’t associated with the shrine, but were actually residential.

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On my way back, I went along Hanami kouji dori, one of the main streets in Gion.

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This street was full of older Japanese tourists. A group of them stopped me and asked to take my picture, so I spent about 10 minutes chatting with them while they put me in front of different buildings and praised my (pitiful) Japanese skills.

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It was the best.


Time for Plan B?

Last week I went to the Japanese Consulate in midtown to sort out my Visa. I was very excited, made sure to dress nicely (not a small feat), and headed to Park Ave and 48th St. Upon entering the building, you need to sign in, go through a security check, and then I was personally escorted up to the 18th floor by an armed guard who did not seem amused by my small talk. He didn’t say a word back to me, or even look in my direction, and the elevator ride was very slow.

Upon exiting the elevator, and thanking my escort (still no sign of recognition), I went through yet another security check, got a ticket number like at the deli counter in a Key Food, and sat down at one of the benches. The Consulate General of Japan was not at all what I was expecting. I figured that it would go one of two ways: either it would be sleek and futuristic, like the lobby of some fancy hotel mixed with the first class section of an airplane, or it would be like the DMV, with horrible florescent lighting, bad linoleum, and office clerks who look like they want to die.

Instead, I walked into a room that reminded me of a study room in a new-ish library. Everything was made out of that light wood that IKEA adores, with warm low lighting, a cushy carpet, and lots of adorable handmade signs in Japanese with little cartoon dogs and smiling Obaachan faces. I would have loved to sit there for a little while, but almost immediately after sitting down my number was called by a friendly looking Japanese man who appeared to be about 60.

“Hi, I’m going to be travelling to Japan in January, and I’d like to get a sightseeing visa for about 6 months.” After doing a bunch of research online, I had found a bunch of places saying that this type of visa did, in fact, exist. The slightly bemused, slightly pitying, “Oh honey, you have no idea what you’re doing” smile the gentleman gave me was my first clue that, in fact, it did not.

“What are you going to be doing?” he asked me, clearly already knowing the answer.

“Just sightseeing and visiting my friends,” I answered confidently. My host told me that when applying for a sightseeing visa it was best not to mention the whole volunteering thing.

“You…. No,” the poor guy was clearly trying to find a polite way of saying ‘You’re extremely stupid and have no idea how immigration works’. “You need more purpose than that if you are going to stay that long.” And with that, he handed me a sheet of paper about the 90 days I can stay in Japan without a visa, and my much anticipated trip to the Consulate General was over in under 3 minutes.

I left the building defeated, giving sheepish looks to the security guards who didn’t seem surprised to see me leaving after such a short trip. At a loss of what to do with the rest of my day (I was expecting to be doing visa related activities for at least a few hours), I decided to buy myself a $24 pair of socks to make myself feel better. Now that I don’t smoke anymore, I find myself buying a lot of things that I don’t need. Retail therapy, I guess.


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