Howdy y’all. Let’s get right down to the genuine far-east blogging.
I woke up early this morning, not fully adjusted to the new time zones, and I wrote my first Day 0 blog post. A little after 7am I went down to the hotel lobby for my first true meal in Japan.
Helpful waitress lady showed me how to use the ticket machine to pay for my breakfast, handed me a little placard thing to place on may table, and then it’s buffet time! Biscuits and gravy with all the fixin’s!
I have no idea what I ate for breakfast this morning. I was just kind of grabbing things at random to try. Various varieties of rice, noddles, fish, and pickled things. Really quite tasty, yet odd at the same time. For some reason, the taste of fish at 7:30am has a sort of discontinuity to it. Like I’m doing things out of order. It’s not what I’d call a “breakfast” flavor.
The weather here in Okayama is gray and drizzly, as it’s supposed to remain for many days to come. Still, I didn’t let that dissuade me from getting outdoors and enjoying myself. After breakfast I wandered around the area near my hotel and the train station, letting the caffeine sink in. There’s a cool “spherical” fountain in the main plaza.
After poking at my phone for ideas of places to visit, I catch a taxi to ferry me across town to Okayama Castle, a reconstructed 16th century fortification on the edge of the river.
500 yen gets me inside and into the gardens beyond, which is great because this time of year the cherry blossoms are in full bloom! Not too many pictures were allowed inside the castle, but there was one photo area where I got to sit inside a fancy lacquered people carrier thing, and a fine older gentleman snapped about 90 shots accidentally with the burst feature on my phone.
A walk around the castle grounds is calm and relaxing. There are more and more tourists around as the morning stretches towards afternoon, but Okayama isn’t a mainstream tourist destination so it never gets too crowded.
A bridge spans a river and leads over to the gardens on the opposite shore, where cherry blossoms are in full bloom, and the occasional sunbeam makes it feel like it’s truly spring. I sit down under a beautiful flourishing tree as many other families and and groups with the same idea enjoy picnics and lively conversation. It’s funny, I always pictured cherry blossoms as pink, but they’re almost totally white, when you see them up close.
There are a few small cafes around the perimeter of the park, where I enjoy some matcha green tea, some sweet, chewy, tea accompaniment snack thing, and watch the kids feed the koi fish. These are big, well-fed fish, that drift around the banks where people toss offerings of bread or pellets of something else into the water.
Linguistically, my biggest challenge of the day comes when I decide to sit down for lunch. I must have a bad accent, because while single words and pointing often works, my attempts at complete sentences or phrases haven’t been particularly effective. Still, I manage to find a seat at a small restaurant and order some curry and a beer, and strike up a conversation with an older Australian couple, Jeff and Barbara from Melbourne.
We end up having a nice long conversation, sharing a meal together for maybe 90 minutes. Jeff’s an opthamologist, and a sailor, and we find we have a lot in common. I go into my usual spiel about rockets and books and the like and it’s a great happy memory of the day, today. I don’t know if our paths will even cross again, but they’re great people and I’m happy to get to know them.
As the afternoon stretches on I forego any more taxis and instead wander back towards the train station and my hotel on foot, exploring the city. It’s quiet and damp, and despite there being a normal amount of cars on the road and people walking around, Okayama doesn’t feel “busy”. It’s a welcome way to easy into my voyage instead of jumping straight into downtown Tokyo.
I come across an outdoor fair/festival (poorly timed since I just ate) and some interesting motivational murals written in English.
On my way back I take a kilometer long detour to explore an covered outdoor mall with clean, upscale shops selling everything from makeup and luxury goods to dense konbini convenience stores broadcasting energetic announcements and flashing lights to catch the attention of passers-by.
I return to the hotel to rest my legs only to find a notice on the floor in my room. A package had arrived for me. Could it be the tickets to the SuperGT race this weekend?
Very excited to see the cars in person soon. Could be wet weather for the race, but after Formula 1 in Austin, I think I can handle just about anything.
It’s interesting to note all the little differences, even here at a fairly westernized hotel. For example, the buttons on the elevator.
In the US, I’d expect the numbers to go 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-10, because that’s how we read text and write: horizontally, left to right. But here the numbers are graduated within each column, to be read vertically, so if you try to read them horizontally you’d get 1-6, 2-7, 3-8, etc.
I decide to keep it simple and get a cheap easy meal from the local seven-eleven around the corner from my hotel. Marvelous little places: clean, orderly, and inexpensive. My “meal” of a coffee milk thing, a rice ball and some sweet fluffy bread thing is a total of 327 yen. About $3. Yum.
My plans for tomorrow remain undefined, but likely involve getting on a train somewhere for a day trip. Maybe Hiroshima, maybe Himeji castle, maybe down across the water onto a different island of Japan. I’m playing it by ear, which is nice, because it keeps the entire trip low stress.
More posts to come! Thanks for reading.