Saturday, November 22, 2008

Osaka & Takarazuka!!

Date: June 22 & 23, 2008
Where: Osaka and Takarazuka
Info: Elspeth told me about Takarazuka a long time ago and we finally got around to going on our final weekend getaway. Takarazuka is a city northwest of Osaka and it's home to the Takarazuka Revue, an all-female cabaret. They are famous for their extravagant costumes (think sparkles, feathers, Las Vegas) and finales. We got tickets for The Scarlet Pimpernel (HA!) and met up with some of Elspeth's Kyoto friends.

Our first stop in Osaka was the touristy HEP Five mall (apparently, this place gets more visitors than Tokyo Disneyland each year!) where we rode the famous red Ferris Wheel located on the top of the building. It was overcast but we had fun taking pictures and trying to find Osaka landmarks.

From the Ferris Wheel pod you could see all across the city. The vastness of Japanese cities still amazes me. The buildings seem to go on forever.

Elspeth pondering...

We tried to get some good pictures of us with Osaka in the background.

We finally got bored of the views and just started acting crazy...

Seriously, Elspeth...we are crazy.

We found an game center, played some taiko and took some purikura. We looked around the HEP Five stores but decided it was too busy and expensive (and any mall without a Hello Kitty store isn't worth Elspeth's time). We looked around the insane Disney store and then took the subway to Namba Station and walked to our favourite tanuki-themed okonomiyaki restaurant.

Our waitress seemed to think that we had no idea what we were doing and hovered over our grill. We tried to show her that we were okonomiyaki pros but she didn't believe us. Once it was cooked and we'd applied our sauce and mayo, she grabbed the mayo bottle and ran away, relieved that she didn't have to help the foreigners anymore. We took our time eating (it was raining outside) and giggled at the young boys eating beside us (their flipping attempt went very bad indeed).

We wandered down Dotombori and saw that the famous Kuidaore Ningyo mechanical clown, who stands in front of a famous restaurant, was decked out in an Indiana Jones outfit to celebrate the release of the movie. Interestingly, I read on the internet that this restaurant has recently closed and that the clown, who has been standing there since 1950 (and is always surrounded by tourists) is to be removed.

Our next stop was the Kaiyukan (Osaka Aquarium). Yes, I'm sure you're all thinking, 'Laura, you've been there so many times! Aren't you tired of it?' Well, yes, I have been there a few times (with a bunch of different people) but I love it. And this time we went at night, which I've never done before. Before entering the aquarium we did a bit of omiyage shopping and I bought myself a big stuffed takoyaki toy (octopus ball). It was so cute and made me think of all of my apartment takoyaki parties that I couldn't resist...

It was beautiful and calm, like always. We wandered around and were puzzled by a poster introducing 'Kai-kun' the whale shark. I could have sworn the shark had been larger the last time I'd been there and after a little research I found out that the old, large whale shark (Yu-chan) had died only a few days after I'd seen her with Tiff and Aaron in 2007.

We were freaked out by fish that you could see through and that didn't move.

We were also freaked out by little pink fish who could hang out vertically and stay like that for a long time...

The jellyfish were awesome as usual and seemed extra bright that day.

We saw little worm-fish-things that were cute and a pink-blob-thing that wasn't.

We stayed until the aquarium closed and then took the subway to our hotel. We got a bit lost (we were staying at a station close to the private train to Takarazuka) but an old woman helped us find the hotel. We wandered around the empty arcade and then found a ramen chain shop that Elspeth had been raving about earlier in the day. We slurped down some of the best ramen I've ever eaten and then ran back to the hotel in the rain.

The next day we took the Hankyu private train line to Takarazuka with Elspeth's friends. The performance was really great. I should have read what the Scarlet Pimpernel was about before going but Elspeth helped me out and Elysaar filled us in about the political/historical info at the intermission .

The finale was especially fantastic, complete with can-can line and large feather cape-things!

(This isn't from the performance I saw but just so you can get an idea of what the Takarazuka Revue finale looks like!!)

Takarazuka was a rather small city so dining options were limited after the show. We ended up buying food at the station department store and eating outside. A group of little kids were running around a fountain and they all stopped to look at the group of foreign girls eating gyoza and noodles. We said goodbye to the others and then headed back to Osaka and took the train back to Nagoya.
Elspeth had purchased a stuffed kitty (she's a fan of the kitten in socks character) so we couldn't resist stopping in at our favourite game center under Bic Camera and taking some purikura with our little friends. These are some of my all-time favourite awesome. I'm sure my mother is cringing while reading this and looking at these photos...hahaha!

I loved Osaka's wonderful food, sights and atmosphere! Each time I visited I found something new and exciting! I miss you, Osaka!!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Playing dress-up in Kyoto

When: Sunday June 16, 2008
Where: Near Kyomizudera temple, Kyoto
Info: The first time I came to Kyoto with Becky and Elspeth, way back during Obon 2006, we had our photos taken as maiko. We had a good time but only got two photos (and they weren't great photos either). I had been thinking of a way to mark the end of my time in Japan and thought that having my maiko photos re-done would be nice. I found this cool looking studio and convinced Elspeth to join me. 

We booked an early appointment, which helped us avoid the crowds and the heat. The studio was located on a tiny traditional looking street but inside it was new and stylish. We were ushered into a change room with a long row of sinks and lockers where we changed into our under kimono things and socks. Next, we headed upstairs to have our make-up done. My hair was pulled securely back (aka almost pulled from the roots) and tied with a headband. Next, the make-up artist smoothed cream on my face, which instantly sealed all of my pores and then proceeded to paint on the snow white make-up. 

Eyebrows, lips and eyeshadow completed our maiko look and we were sent to another room to choose our kimonos. I knew I wanted to wear a dark kimono (last time I was in a bright purple one...just not me) so I was pretty quick in picking. Elspeth went for a pretty blue one which made her crazy blue eyes pop! We were wrapped and tied into those kimonos! Padding and strips of stuff, wrapped in fabric were pushed and pulled into place. The large obi (sash) was secured. Taking a deep breath was no longer an option.

Wigs came next and mine was surprisingly comfortable. It was amazing to see how well it blended with my forehead. The lady dressing me then took a good look at my choice of kimono and obi and pulled some small boxes from a shelf. Inside were fabulous hair ornaments (a silver fan and a bunch of flowers with tiny lanterns and bells!) which she stuck into my wig! 

The transformation was complete! It was so weird to see myself in the mirror! I hardly recognized myself! The package we had chosen included the opportunity to walk around outside with a professional photographer who would take shots of us at various places. We were escorted to the door and helped into the highest wooden platform geta! I somehow got down the stairs without falling and figured out how to take tiny baby steps on the cobblestone-like street.

We hobbled down the street a bit and then our photographer pointed to a spot and showed us how to hold our kimonos (we had to hold them up or they'd drag on the ground). I tried to be all demure and naive looking and smiling with teeth was not allowed (the white make-up made our teeth look hideously yellow!). It felt weird to have my picture taken professionally.

We wandered down the small streets and at one point walked onto a street full of tourists. They all turned to look at us and then started taking photos. It was hilarious! Just picture all of these Japanese tourists taking pictures of two foreign girls dressed as maiko. It was a completely bizarre and fabulous situation. I wonder how many photos there are of Elspeth and I dressed as maiko floating around out there?!

Our photographer took a bunch of photos of us (later we got them on a dvd) and then helped us tie up our kimono so that our hands were free. Then she returned to the studio and we had 30 minutes to roam around Kyoto! We wandered down side streets, posed in doorways and with more tourists, took Aaron shots and then made our way back towards the studio.

I had such a great time doing this! It was totally cheesy and touristy but SO MUCH FUN! Girls, if you're ever in Kyoto and want to splurge - do this! It's so special and you'll have amazing photos to show off to everyone. My students couldn't believe it was me (again!). 

The make-up had been quick to go on but man, it took forever to get off. I scrubbed and scrubbed with approximately 4 different cleansers and about half a bottle of baby oil. It was messy but when we saw our pictures, we knew it had been worth it. We changed back into our normal clothes (which were super boring after wearing a kimono) and went to find somewhere to eat lunch.

We found a tofu restaurant located above a tiny pottery shop and it turned out to be a relaxing and elegant place. The food was absolutely fabulous. One of the best meals I ate in Japan! And everything had tofu in it....OK well, maybe not the tempura or the rice. The highlight of the meal was having tofu made on a burner right in front of me!

See the nabe-ish pot? That contains a liquid the consistency of milk, which eventually turned into the creamiest, most heavenly tofu.

Chewy tofu with different flavours of miso 

Tofu 'skin' served like sashimi, with wasabi and soy sauce

Tempura with matcha green tea salt

The silkiest tofu. ever. 

After lunch we went back along the path we'd gone as maiko, did a bit of shopping and then decided that we were tired and hot. It was time to head home. I mean, we'd had a long day and dressing up in kimono and wigs really tired us out. We hopped on the shinkansen and zoomed back home to Nagoya.

I couldn't have asked for a better weekend. It was a perfect way to celebrate my time in Japan and now I have these amazing memories and photos. I love Kyoto. It is truly one of my favourite places in the world. I can't wait to go back already!