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 Last Days in Japan: Horsemeat Sashimi, Harajuku Girls, Kawaguchi Tatsuo, Xiaolu Guo, Shōchū Hangovers & Eating an Eye for the Ark Figurehead

on our last morning in Kyoto we woke up as always with a sense of urgency, an urgency to see, to experience...this is how it is waking up in a foreign city for us...two days in Kyoto was not nearly enough...still so much left unseen, undiscovered through our own eyes...in an effort to buy us some time [we had a noon bullet train back to Tokyo to catch] we took an [expensive] taxi to the Temple of Kinkaku-ji...cab rides in Japan are something you need to experience at least once...they are all posh, the drivers dressed to the hilt & don't even try to open or close the doors, that all happens automatically...even though he didn't speak English, our driver was trying to convey all sorts of messages to us on the way to the temple...slowing down & drawing pictures & maps & japanese characters for us...j kept one of the scraps that i'd hoped to scan, but alas she can't find it now...

Kinkaku-ji is the "temple of the golden pavilion," not to be confused with the silver pavilion, which we saw the day before, although the silver one was under construction...the golden pavilion was there in it's full glory:

reflecting on Kinkaku-ji

Golden Pavillion

it was probably the most touristed of the temples we'd seen thus far, but for good reason...we followed the hordes past the golden pavilion & the zen sand sculptures [in perfect geometric shapes & patterns] & gardens & mossy woods & bamboo groves, ending with tea [in the ceremonial tradition]...then we hopped a city bus, which was rather slow so we switched to the subway...down to Gojo where we surfaced to see the massive Higashi Hongwan-ji temple:

Higashi Hongwan-ji

you could probably surface anywhere in Kyoto & see such sights...then we walked the rest of the way back to Kyoto station...checked out of the Granvia...got some miso-ramen... & now we're on the bullet train, in the rain, essentially the reverse of getting here/there, which i already documented in 60 seconds of moving images...but here's a few more shots in a different light...

Granvia lobby

kyoto station


escalator-to-ramen = stairway-to-heavan

kyoto escalator


j post-ramen, pre-train

jess on elevator


Kyoto station

Kyoto station


from the station platform looking back at our hotel

kyoto station billboard


Shinkansen approaching

bullet train

then it was the chaos of arriving in Tokyo station, the subway back to the Grand Prince hotel in Akasaka, this time we were even higher, on the 34th floor...had some Suntory then went for another amazing sushi meal at a place in Akasaka whose name slips my mind...



marbled horse meat sushi

i ordered the sashimi plate above...i recognized the piece at top right as Kobe beef, which i was fine with, raw, but the striped piece in the middle looked foreign & suspicious to me so i inquired as to it's identity..."marbled horsemeat," i was told...hmm...i've eaten some crazy things, but usually it's bugs or lower species of animals or unwanted animal parts...i've [knowingly] had dog a few times & haven't been too bothered by it [granted it was stewed & both times were in a foreign place where it was offered to me & not accepting it would've been insulting]...we also saw stores around Tokyo with canned whale meat, which i probably would have a problem with just from a conservation or sustainability standpoint...but much as i like & admire horses, i've always wondered why Americans eat cow & not horse [it's illegal, in fact, as of 2007] & have concluded that it must have something to do with the wild wld west days when cowboys formed bonds with their horses...even justifying it rationally, i have to admit swallowing that raw marbled horsemeat wasn't easy...the psychological factor of it clouds my judgment, but i think it was good, kind of like gamey beef, maybe like venison...

next morning we got up early & went to the Imperial Palace, but it was too early [Sunday] & nothing was open, not even a place to get coffee...finally resorted to a Starbucks, that's how desperate it got...then went back to the Imperial Palace gardens [Higashi Gyoen] once they were open, just because i guess that's something you're supposed to do according to the guidebooks & whatnot, but in all honesty it was not a big deal & you'll find a lot of better gardens than this...not that i'm a garden connoisseur...then through Kitanomaru-Koen park to the Yasukuni-inja temple...saw some sort of procession with buddhist monks & then some martial arts sparring...i pieced together this video from this footage [to a recording i made a while back of Blonde Redhead]...


buddhist monks

then we went to National Museum of Modern Art & saw an exhibit [Language, Time & Life] on Kawaguchi Tatsuo...inspiring stuff loaded with seeds, lotus flowers, beeswax, fossils, lead, circuits, newspaper, boats & other everyday objects that he juxtaposes or recasts to shed new context...to make visible what would ordinarily be invisible...i didn't take notes or take photos or buy the book after, thinking i'd be able to jog my memory looking online, but hardly any information is available on him, at least not in English...though his official site has some images definitely worth checking out...though nothing beats the real thing when it comes to objects like this...

kawaguchi tatsuo: language, time, life


black boxes [each sealed throughout the years...yes, very Schroedinger's cattish]

black box

In particular, there were a few repurposed ark objects that hit home with me.

canoe [not part of this exhibit]...note the faint lotus spindle shadows on surrounding walls...

kawaguchi tatsuo


i think this is the same ark we saw... the ship being piloted by the rocking horse which is shown next
[in the juxtaposed rendition we saw]...

Kawaguchi Tatsuo


rocking horse skipper

After that we went to the Harajuku area to see what the fuss was all about with these kids & their ridiculous fashion statements...it was indeed ridiculous, though i don't think we caught it in it's utmost absurdity...

Takeshita street, Harajuku


we wandered down Takeshita street looking for the notorious Harajuku girls in all their silliness...teenage girls dressed as their favorite Anime/Manga characters or dressed up like their mothers or just dressed up out of boredom, to the hilt, in frilly-lacey absurdity, toting humongous bags with pokemon dolls hanging from them, big wigs, dyed hair, ribbons, Elizabethan poofy hoop skirts, mini-skirts, knee-highs, uggs, neons, pastels, slight tinges of punk or goth, Lolita school girls, Barbie dolls, Steve Nicks meets an Amish Heidi, pop art, that gross pottery-barn-grandmothery-potpourri-kitsch ressurected, over-the-top cute overload, extreme silliness, i dunno what to call it all, here see for yourself...though my pics don't really capture it & i don't think we caught it nearly in it's full glory, if you really want to get the idea, google Harajuku or Gyaru or Visual Kei or Kawaii, etc. [that's what the internet is for, beats the real thing in cases like this]...it's all very complex & ever-evolving & often styles were mish-mashed together...to the untrained eye i'd have to say the [rather unsightly] Victoria-era look was the dominant paradigm [in mid-October 2009]...

frilly harajuku  Elizabethean

thank you mart  rabbit head

Courtney Love  fat dot

puffy hiker  pink latte

frilly harajuku  waiting for train

sex pot  sex pot

banana fish girl  clod hopper

then we walked down the long cedar-lined road to visit the Meiji-jingu temple...which despite the hordes of tourists, was not that impressive, but maybe that's because we had just been to Kyoto...for our last meal m came to get us & took us to this placed called Sakanaya Uoshin that rocked [thanks m!]...he ordered us all sorts of surprises [after determining we were "hardcore" enough on his taste scale]...the first thing that came out was deep-fried & mushy, sort of like deep-fried cottage cheese...he asked what we thought it was & i said oysters [because in my mind i was thinking Rocky Mountain oysters...not that i've ever tried them, but i have an imagination]...he said no, so then i came out with it and said testicles & he started cracking up in disgust & said he wouldn't do that to us...after we had finished eating them he told us that they were indeed fish sperm, gonads...then we had a whole fish head & i had the honor of eating the ping-pong-ball-sized eyeball [really chewy, texture of cardboard, with a hint of liver] & the eye-jello goo from the surrounding socket...here's j contemplating the eyeless head...

jess fish head

that deep-fried thing lower left is the deep-fried fish gonad & the shells in the bowl are from roasted gingko nuts that were delicious...we also had some sashimi which was amazing...

happiness is fresh fish

sushi at sakanaya

to wash it all down, we started with beer, switched to sake & then capped it off with one too many glasses of Shōchū [a sort of Japanese vodka made from sweet potatoes that as we discovered will knock you off your feet]...last thing i remember, after laughing so hard our eyes hurt, was m calling us "big nomads"...he started to put us in a cab but jess & i were too embarrassed to admit we didn't have any money left so we insisted on walking, for fresh air...not that we had the slightest idea where we were, but somehow we managed to stumble across Tokyo until we saw some known landmarks & eventually find our way home...

the next morning wasn't pretty...we had to wake up before 5 a.m. to catch the airport bus...i wasn't feeling so bad but jess was hungover & complaining of chest pains...i started worrying about her & wondering what we'd do if something really bad happened like she needed medical attention & we were about to get on the plane & thoughts of Japanese hospitals & the bus driver wearing his freaky facemask & i started feeling all weird & flushed & kind of sick & sweating profusely, hard to explain, like a panic attack with nothing really to panic about, which is how it usually happens with me...this was like the most severe panic/flushing attack i'd ever had...my skin tingly & hot & electrified, engorged with Shōchū-rich blood melting to drenching sweat, sitting there in the front of the bus, waiting for it to pass but at once reveling in the cathartic purge....& it did pass, it always does, as did j's chest pains & we got to the airport & managed to find some coffee & a green tea muffin & felt a bit better...then made our plane...i read Village of Stone by Xiaolu Guo inflight...a good read, maybe a bit mainstream & cliche, though with a few disturbing edges to it...it takes place in China, between this sort of mythical typhoon-battered village & modern day Bejing...there was a part in the book where the fishermen in her village are superstitious about eating fish eyes, that if you do your boat will get lost in a Typhoon because you [or the Figurehead] won't be able to see, or some other horrible fate will fall upon you...


onward to London ...



(c) 2009 Derek White

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