The last day as tourists, and post-trip thoughts

I first wrote this post on an internet terminal at the Osaka Super Hotel, but it timed out and disappeared.  It’s easier on an American keyboard, anyways - the keys are bigger, and there’s no way to accidently convert everything to hiragana and katakana. 
The last few days of the trip were amazing, but the whole trip really was.  The last day, we got to ride a bullet train one more time, and see Himeji Castle.  The first part of the castle was the Ko-koen gardens outside it.  The gardens were really impressive, and the paths twisted around like a maze.  It is still interesting to me that the different gardens were arranged based on similar principles, but the final appearance of each one was very distinct.  The idea of studying nature, but managing and improving it, reminded me of modern biology, too.  Maybe that’s why there are so many Japanese names in my Molecular biology textbooks - the basic ideas behind genetic engineering and traditional gardens aren’t that different, just the scale.
We saw the castle after an exceptional Western style lunch.  I love castles wherever they are, so Himeji was a treat.  The arrangement was much different than any European castles I’d seen.  Most European castles used terrain and extremely thick walls, possibly in layers, to repel invaders.  Himeji is built on a hill and has several walls, but the defensive focus seemed to be confusion.  None of the paths lead directly to the castle, and a lot of them would have been dangerous in the frenzy of a battle. 
It also had all sorts of little tricks, like low-ceilinged doors, along with high steps and thresholds.  Those sound minor, but we were warned in advance, and our group (including me) still fell victim to head-thumps and tripping.  There was also some samurai armor and spears on display, and a small shrine at the very top.  Our guide was another acquintance of Professor Gunji and did an exceptional job explaining the tower.  Our tour was so good, it started to attract other tourists in the area.  She also pointed out the most picturesque photo site, and the easiest ways around the castle. 
Some parts of the castle were a little more strange, like the fish roof ornaments that were supposed to spit water in the case of a fire.  The upturned roof corners apparently kept people from scaling the walls, and looked very cool.  With so much forethought in the design, it almost seemed like a shame that the castle had never been attacked.  Though, it wouldn’t have been in such condition if it had been attacked - so it balances out.
That night, we had another feast meal.  It was at a make your own tempura, at the table, restaurant.  The concept was very new, but I don’t think it’ll catch on in America anytime soon.  The terribly unhealthy oil at high temperatures seems like it’d be a risky business move.  We had fun with it in Osaka, though - there was chicken, shrimp, sausage, bacon, beef, fish, octopus, and some other meat I didn’t recognize to fry.  There were also vegetables and bread - the fried bread was surprisingly delicious.  Our group tried the usual foods, enjoyed them, and then got inventive.  My table tried frying the brownies and little cream cake squares.  The fried brownie mostly got soggy, but it was edible.  The next table over fried coffee jello (which Janet said was the most disgusting thing she’d eaten) and pineapple (which was better).  Another table melted and reculptured their plastic silverware. 
After the meal, we gave professor Gunji a bottle of Dai-Ginjo sake and our thank-you card.  She kept saying that she thought we’d hate her by then, because of the strict schedule - but everything on the schedule was fun and each day was different, so that certainly wasn’t the case.  Professor Gunji said she liked the gifts, and we gradually set out towards the Supaa Hotel again. 
We checked out a Pachinko parlor, briefly.  Pachinko parlors are the worst of arcades and casinos, mixed together.  Some of us slept before the plane ride, others didn’t, but we all got up in the morning for the “breaking of the fellowship” as Professor Michaelson put it.  We also thanked Elizabeth for managing all the receipts and paperwork that let us eat, travel, and be reimbursed for cab fares.  And then there were the airplane rides and a very tired final scattering in Chicago. 
It’s been almost a week since we got back.. hard to believe that, though.  When friends ask me how the trip was, it’s hard to know where to start.  It was amazing, and I have so many stories to tell about our time there.  In retrospect, it’s also incredible how much we actually did in two weeks.  During the trip, I was always just trying to keep track of the next meeting point and time, but I think our mad dashes showed us a really vivid cross-section of Japan.  Like other non-U.S. trips I’ve been on, coming home made me appreciate America more, but it was an unforgettable experience and I’m glad to have been part of such a great group.  I know that I’d like to go back someday, too..

1 Comment »

  1. David Grayson said,

    June 9, 2007 @ 9:58 pm

    Ken: Very nice. I plan on writing summaries like this for all of the days in Japan, but since you already wrote the summary for this one, you’ve saved me work.

    For me, the trip ended when Bruce Michelson dropped me off in front of my family compound on South Vine Street, after delivering Alice safely to her abode.

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