Going to start breaking the trip down into single days in an effort to keep the ball moving forward here a bit more…
We woke early and caught the train to the Kansai Airport where we hopped on a flight to the New Ishigaki Airport.
Once in Ishigaki, we took a bus to the port where we boarded a ship to take us to Iriomote-jin. Not before purchasing a really delicious burger though. Note to self: if you ever have a ‘home’ again – keep wasabi on hand not just for sushi, but as a burger condiment as well.
For those keeping track, on this single day, Mark and I availed ourselves of the following means of transportation:
Catch that one did you? Yeah. Water buffalo. There’s a smaller island just off of Iriomote (called Yubu Island). The intervening distance is pretty shallow and somewhere in the past, the locals realized that they could lead carts across to the island being pulled by water buffalo. Fast forward a few decades and the transportation method is mostly a tourist trap, but what the hell? We were tourists, and it seemed fun, so away we went.
It was a very good call. While crossing, our host even played a little live music on his… banjo? Lute? Not sure what to call it. Ok music peeps – educate me.
The cart had a ‘privacy panel’ which the driver lifted to shield us from the view when the water buffalo did its business. We both had a good chuckle about that.
On the island itself there was an impressive amount of things to do given the size of the island. A gardens area, a restaraunt, and the home for the water buffalos all were packed on the island which couldn’t have been much bigger than a fistfull of city blocks.
Mark and I turned in our coupons for a free glass of pineapple juice. It was delish. Fresh as it gets. We also debated trying the regional funky ice cream flavor*, but decided against it in favor of some pork and noodles soup at the restaraunt. Quite tasty, but too much grissle for my liking.
We left the tiny island the way we came – we caught the last water buffalo out of town. I just like saying that.
Back on the bus, we continued on to our home for the night. We made it in time for dinner and a show – more live music with the same sort of instrument – this time by our new friend Aki (short for Akiro). Aki proved to be a great resource and Mark talked to him a good deal about our upcoming trek and safety precautions as Aki had done the traverse several times. I believe he also caught the fresh fish we ate for dinner. Aki? He’s kinda a renaissance guy.
*That’s a thing in Japan. It seems like wherever you go there’s a regional flavor that they make into pretty much everything, and they start with ice cream. I’m certain (though I haven’t seen it yet myself) that there’s a region who has the flavor (and thus the ice cream based on) “seaweed”.
For all intents and purposes, I spent all of Monday in the air. Yay for international flights and time zone shifts!
I arrived at Tokyo International Airport (NRT) and headed straight for my hotel. I’d arranged for the room in advance, and I’m seriously glad I did. There had been a problem with my flight taking off from LAX. One of the engines was problematic and a piece needed to be replaced. That meant a six hour delay for departure.
While that’s annoying, it didn’t really mean much to me. My next flight was the following day, and I already had my hotel room booked, so no big right? Well, a number of the folks on my flight were just laying over, and now all of them had to be put up for the night (near the airport) while the airline scrambled for a way to make things right for them.
When the pilot announced that they would be putting people up in rooms for the night, I noted that he said that some of them would have to stay as far as an hour away from the airport because everything nearby was booked.
Did I mention that I was glad I’d booked my room in advance?
Tuesday, February 10th, 2015
I woke early, jumped on a shuttle back to the airport, and checked in for my flight to Osaka. Specifically, I was headed to Kansai International Airport.
Checking in with Peach proved a bit interesting because everything was, well, backwards. You check in where everyone else is Arriving, and their departure gate is completely off on its own and was closed when I got there.
Still, I managed to get my butt on the plane in time for departure and all was well. The flight was great, and I even managed to get a great pic of Mount Fuji thanks to the anonymous guy sitting next to me.
The pilot announced Mt. Fuji and everyone started looking out the window and taking photos. I was on the aisle for the leg room. When the guy in my row who was sitting in the window looked back at me and saw I had my phone out, he gestured a “would you like me to do it?” and I nodded emphatically.
“Arigato gozaimasu.” I said when he handed it back. He did quite a job:
My flight landed fairly early and that gave me some time to get situated before meeting up with Mark that evening, so I decided to make my way to our ryokan(1).
First tricky part to that was figuring out the train system (which thankfuly butted right up to the airport). There was a cute gaijin who had been following the same route as me from the airport (we both wound up going a bit the wrong way) and we had a brief discussion about the chaos we found ourselves in.
Shortly thereafter, I managed to get myself on board the right train and headed in the right direction. Amazingly, I managed this without error. I even had time to snap a couple pics of an interesting art installment which was made with tickets from the railway system.
I met a nice family who were tourists themselves when I offered to take the picture so that Grandpa could be in it as well. As fate would have it, Grandpa spoke some english and far better than I speak japanese, so we had a nice (if brief) chat.
I jumped off the train at Izumisano and found my way to our ryokan. It was too early to check in, and the japanese have their rules(2), so instead I just dropped off my big bag and decided to walk around town a bit.
Feeling a bit peckish, (hey, I don’t come by this dainty physique easilly) I decided my first stop would be some food. I backtracked a bit to the train station in Izumisano and stopped into a place called London Bakery. After watching the crowd for a couple of minutes to determine the ‘process’ involved in ordering, I realized that you a. grab a tray and tongs from there, pick the items you want and add them to your tray, then take them to the counter to pay for them. I did so, and additionally requested “Coffee” which (the gods bless me) sounds enough in japanese as it does in english so I’m able to get that through.
The ‘sandwich’ is a bread with egg baked into it and noodles stuffed into the center (welcome to Japan!). The pastry in the back is a simple bread with cream cheese and blueberry core. The coffee was delicious.
I was a little surprised and disappointed to find that London Bakery didn’t have a wifi connection available to customers, so I started roaming in order to find one. Then I kept wandering.
The walk reached its pinnacle when I reached Rinku Pleasure Town. No, it’s not that. It’s a giant mall. I’d been winding my way there for a while because I’d seen a giant ferris wheel stretching above the building tops. In a foreign city? Don’t speak the language? Why wouldn’t you seek out the giant ferris wheel?
I really enjoy walking in a new town. I do this when I’m working, and this seemed an even better time for such things. After a bit though, I made my way back to the ryokan, checked in officially, retrieved my hoodie (it was getting chilly – even for me) and jumped back on a train bound for Osaka.
Once I exited the train in Osaka, I made my way to Nanbantei – a yakatori(3) place Mark and I agreed to meet at. I was a bit ahead of schedule (Mark had to work a full day at the office before heading to Osaka) but I wanted to put a pin in the mental map and be sure where I was headed later. Then I could wander with peace of mind.
I have to tell you – there’s something mind boggling about meeting up with your best friend on the far side of the planet. Wandering the back streets of Osaka only to step out into the light long enough to catch your buddy’s attention, then duck back down the alleys to a fantastic meal eaten at a table filled with strangers? Yeah. It was like that.
We didn’t stay in Osaka long. We had early travel plans for the following morning and we needed to get the proverbial move on, so we pretty much just ate and jumped on the train back to Izumisano Station. Mark commented on how funny it was that I needed to show him where to go. The guy has lived in Japan quite a bit over the years, and here I am on my first real day in Japan and I’m the one who knows the way.
A breakdown of the trip thus far as copied from mrlich.onepostwonder.com (I plan to put all Japan trip posts here, but started it out over there)…
Friday February 6th, 2015
Left northern Florida (JAX) via Southwest. Stopped in DEN and then on to LAX where I was met by my buddy Jason who swept me off to his place to crash. The slight headcold / congestion did very little to dampen the experience.
The Denver stop was a bit of a tease. I have some really great people in Denver and I’ve been wanting to go for a visit for some time now. So being in their city and not able to visit was a touch frustrating. I, of course, find this to be one of those scenarios where “If that’s my biggest problem in life…”
Saturday February 7th, 2015
I had breakfast with Jason and his family at a place called Country Deli in Chatsworth CA. Delightful family place which serves a yummy sausage breakfast burrito. After breakfast we visited local fish/reptile shop because they were looking for some things to fix their aquarium.
Post pet store, I had a planning session with Mark via Google Hangouts in order to go over some of our plans for the first adventure one I’m in the country. First up? Tropical jungle camping/hiking on one of the southern islands of Japan – Iriomote.
Chilled out with Jason and his son while his wife and daughter were off having some girls only chill time. Then the boys made their way to a swanky steak house for a really satisfying meal.
Funny side note: I’m planning on using Japan as a jumping off point to improve my diet. Content of my diet, sure, but the primary focus is portion control. To that end, I was proud of myself for ordering ‘only’ the six ounce steak. Of course, the the portions on everything else about the meal were so ginormous as to render my herculean effort null and void. C’est la vie.
At the end of the night, Jason and I watched John Wick starring Keanu Reeves. Stop laughing – it was surprisingly entertaining. (And not in a “I can’t believe how awful this is…” sense.)
Sunday February 8th, 2015
Woke up fairly early and reduced / repacked my bags in order to get rid of some of the ‘excess’ that I had collected. Yes, I felt like I had too much stuff with my two bags loaded.
I explained to one adorable little girl and her very awesome brother that “That Boy” would come back soon.
Jason and I made our way to brunch with some dear old friends (Patty and Mike) at a place called Pann’s just outside LAX. Patty and Mike are great human beings. They scratch a very specific itch I have for chatting with crazy creative people who also have more than enough brains to support that creativity. While I’m really blessed with so many folks of that particular mix in my life, Patty and Mike have a different flavor to their creativity that I feel like my life would be greatly reduced without. A chance to hang out with them is something I will never pass on. I also got to consume one seriously yum Louisiana Omellette.
Once Jason dropped me off at the airport, my check in went easy on a ridiculous scale. My only objection there was the fact that they forced me to check my backpack because it was a couple kilograms over the weight limit. Not the end of the world, certainly, but I work really hard to keep it to carry on only, so this frustrated me. On the plus side, the woman who checked me in and made the request couldn’t have been more gracious. I suspect that’s a taste of things to come, and frankly, I’m looking forward to that.
My take off was a different story altogether. My flight was originally scheduled to leave at 2:20pm. Due to some technical issues with one of the engines, and the need to replace some component therein, we didn’t actually take off until 6:30pm. End of the world? Far from it. It was a little bit stressful, but mostly from the fact that my brain wouldn’t let go of the idea that “there’s something wrong with one of the engines”. Still – they fixed the part, the staff was gracious and responsive, and eventually we were on our way.
A side note about the staff of Singapore Air flight SQ011 – I don’t know if I simply ‘lucked out’ or if they have some sort of attractiveness requirement for their staff, but pretty much every crew member on this flight is of model level attractiveness. The men are handsome and the women are beautiful on a ‘my chest aches just looking at this human’ level. None of this really matters for anything, but as it’s a first in my air travel experiences, I thought it noteworthy.