Selected Memories From
My Japanese Vacation
Should I pack my cat, or not?

A Brief Introduction:
Since early in my high school days, I had been interested in the Japanese people. In those days I would do anything to learn more about the language and culture, from watching anime to tutoring exchange students. This interest was enhanced further when my uncle, who taught English in Japan as part of the JET program, married a Japanese woman and brought her back to the US. My aunt Tina and I had many conversations, and she helped to deepen my view of the culture from an inside perspective.

In 1999, Tina decided to return to Japan for two weeks in order to visit her family. As a graduation present, she offered me the chance to accompany her on the condition that I would help watch her children during the flight. The following are some random photos from that memorable trip, with limited annotation.

Seven days...
Rankingu Daisuki magazine cover.

Here are a couple of photo-booth pictures from an arcade I visited with Kazuhiro (my aunt's cool otaku brother) and his girlfriend. I used to think that the background images from the bluescreen booth (top image) were just a Random Thing, but a friend recently pointed out that they're actually promoting the original Japanese release of The Ring. Would have been neat if they had done the blurry-faces effect. Oh well.

The bottom image, taken from a different photo-kiosk, is one of my favorite souvenirs from the trip. The text overlays give it the appearance of a magazine cover, and thus I was given the chance to appear on the front of Rankingu Daisuki ("Ranking Love"). Yes friends, even during high school, my good-looks were worshipped on both sides of the Pacific. I am the celebrity that I think I am.

UFO Catcher of Doom!
I captured Pikachu!

Oh look! A UFO catcher with Pokemon dolls in it. Lost a few coins trying to catch the Nyasu/Meowth doll, but it was too small to grip with the crane. The comparably pudgy Pikachu was all I could manage. Then I tied it up in an airtight plastic ice sack from my hotel and left it in a cardboard box to rot, alone and unloved, for the next two years. Ha ha ha. Well, actually, I didn't mean to be as evil as that. What I really wanted to do was sell the thing on eBay.

Behold! An actual Japanese Pokemon doll! Unlike those lousy Chinese knockoffs, this doll is authentic. You can tell that it's authentic, because it's from Japan! You should give me lots of money!

Unfortunately, by the time I got around to putting the thing up for sale, the market was so saturated with Pokemon junk that it was impossible to attract individual attention. Oh well.

While I'm thinking about this place, would you like to hear a Stupid Foreigner Story? Let me tell you a Stupid Foreigner Story. This arcade was in the basment of the hotel where I was staying. It had many fun and shiny arcade games that I wanted to play. Most of these games charged 100 yen (about a dollar) per credit. Funny how traveling abroad makes you lose your economic perspective. I played games until I ran out of coins. Then I went looking for a change machine so I could get more coins. After finding a machine of appropriate size and shape that I could stick a paper bill into, I fed it a thousand yen, and got a chunk of change bigger than my fist.

"That can't be right."

Turns out they were tokens. Tokens for the three or four psuedo-gambling machines littered around the arcade, none of which I wanted to play. And if I happened to win at one of these machines, what would I have gotten? More useless tokens! No, I couldn't cash them in. I learned all this within twenty seconds, thanks to the sign posted on the machine, helpfully printed in English:

"This is a token machine! Not a change machine! No refunds!"

Over ten bucks gone, just like that. Arrgh!

Miyazaki, anyone? Interior of a bookstore. I bought a couple of Miyzaki videos here, since Ghibli had just been bought by Disney and everyone was in a state of panic.
Front porch of the Gato residence. Front porch of the Gato residence. The house was a traditional (if small and low-income) example of Japanese residential architecture.
The Gato family at play. Dean, my Aunt Tina, and her father watching TV. They had a letterbox set that fascinated me to no end.
Kids run through the city. Dean and Nadia play around the fountain in Shizuoka city.
The Golden Pavillion

Two major stops on my tour of Japan were the old captials at Kyoto and Nara. (I never did get around to seeing Tokyo.) There were a lot of interesting things to see there, and I really should get some more pictures scanned.

In the meantime, here's a nice shot of the Golden Pavilion - a temple building at the center of a Kyoto zen garden. Built in the thirteenth century, the top two floors are covered in gold leaf.

The A-bomb Dome
A-bomb Memorial Altar

One of the major highlights of the latter half of the trip was my visit to Hiroshima, and it produced a mixed bag of feelings. Although my major reason for going was to reenforce my understanding of the atomic bombing there, the city has since been completely rebuilt and has a number of thriving industries. Which is not to say that the people there have forgotten the attack. Far from it.

The building displayed at left is the "A-Bomb Dome", at what is commonly agreed to be as close to Ground Zero of the attack as can be pinpointed. Though the main structure of the building survived intact, the ruins have since been reenforced to prevent their natural collapse.

Which is all well and good, at first. Important historical landmark, got to learn from the lessons of history, nukes are bad, etcetera. Until you notice that the city was planned so that you could glimpse this building from every part of the town.

This feeling of creepiness followed into the museums, where schoolchildren would constantly approach me to make overatures of friendship. This on its face wasn't such a bad thing - foreigners are often the objects of attention at tourist attractions. The difference was that instead of trying to practice their English, they wanted to give me cards politely asking me not to bomb them again.

Surreal place, Hiroshima.

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