Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cute Shit: The Hello Kitty Café

My first year in Korea I was so obsessed with sending as much money home as possible and not spending it on trivial shit that I even avoided going to Hongdae's famed Hello Kitty Café. 
Upon returning to Korea in late December of 2013 I realised what I'd done and pretty much went immediately. 
It was everything I thought it'd be and more. There are different stencils that they use to dust everything with cocoa powder, cinnamon, and powdered sugar images of Hello Kitty. 
I just wish I could eat the mediocre waffles and stuff.

A Japanese girl I'd met once in college in the States also happened to be in Seoul and in need of entertainment for an afternoon last summer, so I took her there and to a couple of other kitschy Hongdae main drag places, too. It was actually really fun, and oddly well-timed for the outfit I happened to be wearing that afternoon, having gotten sick of boring work clothes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Japanland: Nara

After wandering all around Kobe (partly because I was too stubborn to take the expensive trains only a few stops) I took a train to Nara, where I was going to meet up with Faith at the hostel I'd booked for both of us. The one I'd picked - Guesthouse Naramachi - was once the house of a wealthy merchant and was something like a hundred years old.

Finding it, though, was not the easiest thing, and I ended up wandering around a large portion of the city. I'd first found my way to the tiny, obscure train station nearest the hostel but couldn't tell which narrow neighbourhood road to take from there, so I asked a guy on a scooter. He told me it was probably another 20 or 30 minutes' walk, even though I'd thought I was close. 

This house was similarly unamused

It got dark, and knowing that I was nearby (because I'd gone back to the main road), I stopped in a flower shop to ask one more time. Apparently everyone does this, because as soon as they saw a tired sweaty foreigner they asked if the guesthouse was what I was looking for before I even had a chance to say anything. Thankfully, it was right across the street.

It was getting a bit late and Faith still hadn't made it there, so I went out for sake and to get something to eat from the nearby supermarket with two older Australian women. 

I'm glad I finally got a proper digital camera, this is an example of the best my camcorder can do in the dark and with movement.

Faith had some trouble finding the place, too, and I had no way to contact her to let her know how to get there, but she miraculously made it just before they locked the door for the night.

The owners of the place are an older couple and are a little strict, but reasonable. This is a small, quiet city that time has more or less forgotten in large fenced-off swaths, so they don't want people making a ruckus. There's not really any nightlife that I'm aware of. 
Anyway, they turn out the lights and kick you out of the common area with the computer at 10 or something, and frequently come by before that to ask you not to talk and laugh loudly. So if that's going to piss you off, don't stay there.

Overall, though, it's very cute, nice, and cozy, with super steep and narrow stairways and basically everything you'd expect from your first trip to Japan. Or from a trip to one of its most iconic cities, anyway.

The next day we rented bikes from the hostel and set out to pedal through the deer-laden parks and temple grounds that comprise most of the historic one time capital.

I wasn't fully expecting this and hadn't planned for it, so I made the terrible decision to wear a long, thin, flowy dress that I'd been wanting to take for a spin since I'd bought it months before. The result was that I spent a lot of time making sure my crotch was adequately covered, and I ended up biffing it pretty hard twice, largely because of the balancing issue presented by the dress's majestic cottony wind-flapping.

... Also, I hadn't been on a bike in like 10 years and was never really into riding.

Thanks, Forever 21. 

My foolishness aside, the parks were beautiful.

... the deer don't really like to be Instagrammed

Awesome failed deer selfie

We stopped at one of the souvenir stands we came across because I wanted to try the black sesame soft serve. I'll admit that I also got deer sockies and a chirimen phone charm.

This is the swag I ended up with, though that wooden ornament is the one I mentioned from Kobe and the postcard on the right is from Osaka. I still haven't used these awesome stickers. 

There was a large buck menacing the front of the establishment and eyeing our ice cream (also pictured above), so the nice guy running the place just came out with a broom and gently chased it away. It was actually pretty funny.


Seriously though. This is funny but totally accurate.

After that another buck and his harem were haunting the side of the road, and I tried to take a video of them, but it was cut regrettably short when I noticed the two giant hornets buzzing around my head and just ran away, full speed. Worst nightmare come true. 

We cycled to Todai-ji, the enormous wooden temple housing the enormous bronze Buddha that I'd learned about in school, and decided to see it before wandering the grounds and feeding the near-ravenous droves of blank-staring deer.


-considers purchases carefully-

Just look at these dumbasses:

It was actually pretty adorable: you'd assume schoolboys would harass the shit out of these animals, but they were really trying to get the map out of her mouth.

It wasn't funny anymore after I tried to feed them, though. I got a packet of the special deer crackers, intentionally chose the most deer-stuffed section of sidewalk I could find, and ended up worse off than the other people we'd been giggling at earlier, the ones who'd gotten scared when the doe-eyed bastards closed in and scurried/danced/leapt out of the herd.

Totally surrounded by dozens of deer, I couldn't get rid of the snacks fast enough, and they started biting me. It was totally overwhelming and ended up being a little traumatic, lol. I realise they're wild animals, but they just seem so cute and harmless until you're in their midst and holding food. There were way more crackers in the package than I'd thought. I tried to get Faith to switch with me, to toss her the crackers so she could try while I took the camera, but there were so many deer that we couldn't even reach each other. I guess hilarious moments aren't usually your proudest ones.

Anyway, once our experience at the extensive grounds surrounding Todaiji was complete, we had some takoyaki and dango from a stand and watched adorable kids in matching hats on a school field trip line up in the parking lot before moving on.

The next obligatory temple we decided to hit was Kofukuji. Interesting fact: that pagoda was first built in 725, and the one there now is a restoration from 1426.

There was also a museum of national treasures there, but we were already sweaty and tired, and it probably would've put us to sleep. Plus, I think I remember it being either expensive or closed. Maybe both.

We headed to the main station, which is surrounded by the restaurant and shopping district. I gave an itinerant monk some alms, we talked about how we wished we could afford accessories, jewelry, and cute things in nice touristy shops that reminded me a little of Sedona (mostly because of the open-air layout), and we marveled at the adorable desserts being advertised outside every little cafe.

We also had vegetarian curry at one of the restaurants I'd looked up, noted on a map and hoped to find, Wakakusa. The picture's not very attractive, but then, I guess curry usually isn't. What I've got in the glass there is fresh, kinda spicy, actually-gingery ginger ale. Definitely recommend.

This one's my favourite!

So, you know, I was like, "Yeah, fuck it, I'm having a salty dog and a slice of chocolate mousse cake in the middle of the afternoon".

For whatever reason we found this totally amazing and weird. many lost. much translation.

Naramachi had a cute owl collection in their entryway.

Finally, there was Osaka.