Monday, December 04, 2006

Back from Japan

I'm back from vacation in Japan, which was just awesome in spite of the fact that believe it or not, I didn't go to Akihabara and saw very few signs that anime even exists while I was there (one of which was the poster above on the street leading to Kyoto University). Part of me did want to go to Akihabara and take out a second mortgage on the house to make our living room look like Tsuyoshi's room from Densha Otoko, but I wouldn't do that to my wife, so I restrained myself.

I remember before my first trip to Japan, the Most Holy City of Mecca for all anime fans, I half expected to see ads for Love Hina in the subway and subway stations named after all the girls from To Heart, but quickly saw that anime's not really all that mainstream there either. You have to look for it, or you won't see any signs it even exists. This trip, I think the only anime-related ads I saw were a poster in Shinjuku for the PS2 versions of Fate/Stay for the Evening and Yoakena, and a couple posters for an upcoming Precure movie. Oh, and I saw a poster for Kirarin Revolution. No huge Kanon banners hanging from the rafters at Narita airport, no train conductors wearing Keroro Gunso kigurumi announcing "sugi wa Kyoto de arimasu~!", although if there had been that would have been really cool. But I'm not really complaining--anime may be a niche even in Japan but that doesn't change the simple fact it beats the crap out of most mainstream "entertainment" in my book by a mile.

If you ever go to Japan, I can't recommend going to Kyoto highly enough--even if it's just for one night, there's so much to see there it's amazing. This was our third trip, but we still found lots of places to explore that we'd never been to before (no thanks to guidebooks, though, which only give a handful of temples and shrines to visit--googling the places on the Kyoto taxi site and then finding them on our map gave us much better and sometimes well-off-the-beaten-path suggestions). Kyoto in the fall is simply the most incredible place I've ever been, as I've blogged about before in the 2nd half of this post, so I'd recommend going in mid/late November, but it's impressive any time of year. If you don't believe me, here are some pictures from last trip.

A few more pieces of (completely unsolicited, of course) advice if you get to go to Japan:

- Go to Kyoto. Or if you're on a business trip to Tokyo and you really don't have time, go to Kamakura which is the next-best thing, with lots of old temples (and it's only an hour outside of Tokyo, versus Kyoto being 3 hours by shinkansen).

- Take Japanese first. Just a 10-week, one night a week class at a community college or extension is fine, but it really makes a difference being able to order food semi-competently, and most importantly, understand how to ask "how for the love of Haruhi do I get to X from here" and then understand the words for "straight", "left", and "right". Plus there were a surprising number of people who started talking to me in Japanese, even though my butt-white ass doesn't look like I should know a word of it, I think when you're off the beaten tourist path people assume you must have some fluency (which in my case is dead wrong). It's really cool somehow to be able to communicate in a foreign language, especially in America where most people can go their whole lives without ever really needing to. Plus as an anime fan you're more likely than most to keep your Japanese skills up because you can listen to the language every day.

- Go to Kyoto. Did I say that already? Maybe temple gardens and fall color aren't your thing, but there's still a lot to see there regardless.

- Learn hiragana and katakana. If you take a class, they'll probably cover this--it's a pain to learn them, but it's also worth it. Going to a restaurant with no English menu and not having to resort to going outside and pointing at the plastic food because you can tell the Japanese menu says "mozzarella and tomato pasta" gives you a feeling of accomplishment you just can't get pointing and grunting " of these". It's probably how you felt as a 3-year old learning to read, but you're old enough now to have forgotten so this is a one-time chance to relive the experience.

- Use the internet to help find places you want to go. Japan guidebooks are OK for the big tourist attractions, but not so good for finding the more out of the way places that can make your trip really worthwhile.

- Go to Akihabara. I know, I said I didn't go there this trip, but that's because I've been there before, and They say that you can't enter Otaku Heaven unless you go there at least once in your life. It's somehow cool to see what the world would look like if anime WAS mainstream.

- Bring plane socks. Wear a second pair of socks on the plane instead of wearing shoes. It somehow makes the 10+ hour flight more bearable. If you're lucky enough to fly business class the airline actually gives you plane socks.

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