12/26/2013 – Day 7 in Japan

January 3, 2014 - 11:40 am No Comments

We declared today “Grace and Joyce hangout day”. Waking up slightly later than usual, we took the train for 1.5 hours to Himeji, where Grace studied over the summer. Famous for Himeji Castle, Himeji is a “small big city” according to Grace – the suburbs sprawl far out of the city, but the main street is just one straight path from the train station to the castle. Unfortunately, Himeji castle was under significant restoration – scaffolding covered the entire facade so we couldn’t see the structure. Instead, a box-shaped tent completely shrouded the castle with a terrible print of what we ought to have seen.

We didn’t have an agenda today, nor did we rush. Instead, all I wanted to do was to see where Grace hung out over the summer and do a day “Grace style”, with lots of shopping, eating, and wandering around absorbing the atmosphere. We started off in the central shopping area in a department store called Piore, and then we went to the shotengai (covered shopping area). Unfortunately, it rained the entire day so we tried to stay indoors as much as possible.

Himeji is extremely cheap when compared to Tokyo, and even Kyoto. We started off with a gigantic Katsu set lunch – deep fried pork cutlet in a special flakey batter – for the price of a McDonald’s Big Mac meal in Virginia. Even though we were very full, we went to an Akashiyaki restaurant afterwards to share an akashiyaki (imagine takoyaki but with dashi) set lunch with octopus rice and eight delicious yakis. Then, wandering the streets, we shared a similar dessert to taiyaki with sweet red bean filling but in the shape of a circle. After taking a short walk, we went to Nana’s Green Tea and shared a large green tea parfait, perhaps my favorite dessert since arriving in Japan. Later on, Grace ate a wasabi-pan while I nibbled on a sugar-crusted melon pan. All this food of course came ahead of dinner. It would be unsurprising if I gained 5+ pounds…but the food is completely worth it.

As a general commentary, I love shopping here in Japan – there are just too many wonderful things to look at and buy! Grace knows the best stores and locations for value and quality. I’m probably spending too much money, with the justification that I rarely have a chance to take a vacation like this and that eventually, everything I bought as a gift will be given away. Furthermore, everything here is so cute – from socks and cell phone trinkets all the way to decorative cups and clothing…I simply can’t find things like this in the United States. Both guys and girls like cute things, and men’s fashion is taken more seriously here than anywhere I’ve seen in the world thus far. Anime goods and gatcha-pons (vending machines that deliver small anime trinkets of mixed variety) are ubiquitous…if only the US were like this! Based on the art styles that resonate with us, Grace and I have been writing down the names of potential anime shows to watch for when we get back. Alas, having not really watched much anime since high school, I don’t recognize any of the popular shows other than Utapri, which Grace made me watch a few episodes during Thanksgiving break.

In the evening, we met up with Grace’s Japanese friends from the CLSA program – Naoki, Yuka, Tomi, and Hiroyo joined us for Japanese-style Chinese food. I had fun listening to Grace interact with her friends even though I had no idea what she was saying. Her friends were really nice, and I enjoyed the cultural exchange. Grace had told me so many wonderful stories about her summer and her adventures with her friends so it was meaningful to meet everyone in person. Grace had felt nostalgic throughout the day – I’m glad that she had a chance to come back and see everyone again.

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