I have recently returned from a short trip to Japan, the land of the glamorous hot bath, pork cutlet curry, and (alas) millions of varieties of instant coffee. It was a work trip (ostensibly), and my “sightseeing” was limited mostly to the sights I could see from my hotel room window (namely the Narita airport, and typhoon Phanfone as she blew by), and yet at the end of six days (there was some Guam involved…) I was so loaded down with mementos I could barely zip my suitcase.
Why, you ask? Because, as you know, Japan is the birthplace and home base of my Souvenir Hero, Hello Kitty, and if she’s on something, I buy it.
We had a Sanrio store at the U-Hills Mall here in Denver when I was growing up, where you could get Hello Kitty pencils and weird candy, but even as a pretty fruity kid, the appeal of some expressionless cat sitting still in her overalls escaped me. It wasn’t until I started running around Japan as a grown man that she revealed herself to me as kind of a bad-ass. Continue reading
Yellow Umbrella from The Java Jive (.com)
It’s Springtime, and if you live in a place that has seasons, you will by now have noticed that things are coming, at last, to life. I’m probably a little late to sing the praises of the actual cherry blossoms — they’re only at their peak for a very few days — but the array of flowering trees here in Denver reminds me of one of my very first trips to Japan. I had been to Narita, of course, as all good flight attendants eventually must, but this was my first Osaka trip. I had just finished reading Memoirs of a Geisha like two weeks before, and was dying to see the Gion district in Kyoto, a short train ride away. It was April, so I sold one of my flying partners on the prospect of a cherry blossom photo safari, and shortly after breakfast, we set out.
This was well before I got to know My Kyoto: the Kyoto of the World’s Largest hundred yen store and the all-you-can-drink Karaoke Room; of Starbucks and stick-pics and the Shakey’s corn-and-mayonnaise pizza buffet. My wacky romance with Japan was barely budding, and the whole country still struck me as a different Universe. Oddly parallel to ours, with its Toyotas and vending machines and smiling people, but hopelessly — perhaps purposely — indecipherable. While we walked through ultra-modern Kyoto to get there, my memories of that day are all of Gion. Its wooden houses surely bursting with geishas and other ancient secrets, its tunnels of cherry trees sprinkling the streets with their blossoms as dutifully as the earnest little flower girl that makes the wedding of a friend of a friend surprisingly memorable. Continue reading