Kobe and Tokyo were a fabulous adventure.... the weather overall was kind of hot and wet... my sponsor got food poisoning the very first day we were there (don't eat mayonnaise that is in a squeeze bottle next to the grill) and my friend Cynara and I were left more on the loose than we originally expected to be.
Here is Cynara posing for our "welcome to Japan" photo at the Tokyo airport:
We began the trip flying into Tokyo --- neither of us spoke Japanese (I could read and say numbers.. also right, left, up, down, forward, back...dancer stuff --- and Cynara could ask where the bathroom was) and we had to catch the bullet train to get to Kobe all by ourselves. We immediately learned to look stupid and just plain ask where to go.
People were wonderfully helpful, but they also seemed a little afraid of us... especially in Kobe where we were joined by my old student (now from Hawaii), Jill. Of course, Jill IS a 5'10" gorgeous curley-haired amazon in a country where *I* was a moderately tall woman at 5'3" AND she has a Hawaiian idea of how to dress (the sarongs raised eyebrows wherever we went). The rest of us are pretty pedestrian, my sponsor and I are fairly short dark-haired women... though my other friend Cynara is a true long platinum blonde. Oh, all right, we were obviously not natives.
Back to the narrative, we flew into Tokyo, collected our luggage and zoomed through customs and off to the (very western) Holiday Inn!
Despite the hotel being exceptionally western, there were some different things about the place...there were real bellhops -- all women in high heels and straight knee-length skirts with little bellhop caps -- all the rooms had teapots and tons of miniature individually-packaged bathroom items. There were no food snack machines, though you could get beer, saki and whisky in the vending machines plus an assortment of soft drinks. ---Don't drink "Happy" EVER. It is just horrible.
Added 5/13 - It was really pleasant being able to do things without constantly having to figure out tips... who and how much.... who and how much... you get in a cab and you pay what the meter is. You go to a restaurant and pay for your meal. You don't have to constantly evaluate service and be judged on your generosity. You pay your bill and the service just goes with it!
Additionally we were surprised at how safe everything DOES feel. Watching the news while we were there, you could see there was a certain amount of crime and tragedy as there is anywhere else, but there really was something different about just walking around there.
Something about the way people relate (or don't) to each other... like they won't infringe on each other because anarchy might ensue with that many people if you don't respect each other's personal space, and that pretty much precludes personal one-on-one random crime.
Walking around at night in Kobe and Tokyo you find no feeling of menace from ANYONE. And it wasn't that we didn't see the people who would be threatening at home... at the train station in Tokyo Cynara and I actually cracked up a homeless guy who saw us buying an individually packaged ice-cold saki from a vendor ---"One Cup Ozeki" comes in a glass jar. I suspect he thought we didn't know what we had just bought... from what I can tell in my saki book much later, it is possible this is something like Milwaukee's Best beer in the US... something poor college students and winos buy (sorry MB beer lovers) and not something adult female American tourists would be seeking out. We really liked it, though, and brought some home! In fact I STILL have one in my fridge!
Of course we also brought home fancy saki... and some lunch size bags of chips to impress the children with that had little dried fish in there with the rice crackers.
I'm rambling. About the homeless...
We saw homeless people... there were definitely homeless in Tokyo in the train station and we walked right into a little village of tarp tents on the back side of the Ueno Zoo... but there wasn't a feeling of menace. It was very strange...
We must really scare the heck out of tourists here in the US.
The first day, jet lag absolutely killed us.... we were exhausted and incredibly dehydrated so we just went to bed without our suppers. We were a little concerned that the phone number we had for my sponsor didn't seem to work.... but the phones were pretty confusing all on their own... there were three different colored ones in the lobby and all seemed to have different purposes... we gave up rapidly.
In the morning we trotted down to the restaurant for breakfast... ordered our Spanish omelettes (a perfect egg disk) and tossed salad -- everywhere we went served tossed salad with breakfast... the first morning we thought it was just a bad picture on the menu. Coffee was instant and served at the end of breakfast... and we are from Starbuck's country! Frightening!
Finally it was time to find the subway and catch the bullet train (the Shinkansen) to Kobe. But first we had to get to the station!
We finally ended up on the train to the Shinjuku station where the bullet train was to depart from, but on our first train ride to get there we saw tons of the outlying countryside going into Tokyo proper... rice fields with an occasional person working in them (one guy in a stereotypical pointed hat) ... increasing numbers of communities showing gorgeous tile roofs in tons of colors including this superb cobalt blue. Finally we rolled into Tokyo where we saw HUGE signs, many stating cryptic combinations of words in English... "Sky Happy" "Luck Moon"... business names that don't reflect the products as they tend to do in the US... and don't seem to have any western logic to them. "Happy Sky" would be a western travel agency.... "Sky Happy" seems to not me a case of happy being a modifier to sky. Hard to explain.
We managed to find our way through the huge train station to make our connection. The station had tons of tile everywhere... and no elevators for people with big luggage (we eventually named my bag of vending stuff "George" because of its general resemblance to a full grown man in a duffel bag).
After dragging, pushing and kicking George into the Shinkansen we were on our way to Kobe!
The trip was great.... leaving the city through the giant signs, past the apartment buildings with their futons hanging off every balcony rail by giant clothes pins...then there were more tile roofs and shrines, long lines of tea shrubs, a wonderful view of Mt Fuji in the distance as we made our way about 2/3 the length of the entire country down to Kobe, an age-old maritime center.
On the train itself there were vendors with carts of goodies for sale... box lunches, snacks & candy, beverages. I purchased a bottle and immediately developed a strong liking for cold green tea (it tastes rather like lawn clippings when it is cold... I had always drank it hot) and Cynara and I got Poke sticks (thin, long cracker/breadsticks covered with chocolate) to go with the tea, ...eventually we walked back to the snack car and got a box lunch sandwich set with kind of egg salad finger sandwiches and salmon/cucumber sandwiches to share. Very yummy.
On the train we also encountered our first Japanese toilet. On a moving train... well it reminded me of waterskiing.
We finally arrived in the Kobe area (Nishi-Akashi, actually), but we still had been unable to get ahold of Nadirrah (my sponsor) or her lovely friend and co-producer, Akiko. Fortunately I remembered the name of the hotel we were supposed to be staying at.... "Lincoln," and I knew it was supposed to be just a few blocks from the station. ---We really weren't too concerned about not being able to contact Nadirrah since she knows me well and knows I don't rattle easily... I get excited, but I don't get scared, and Cynara is.pretty much the same kind of logical adult kind of person.
Soooo.... we talk the train people out of a little street map ...after much trying to get them to understand that we are looking for the Lincoln... and address for the hotel and off we go dragging George and the rest of the luggage!
We wander to several different hotels within a few blocks radius as locals aim us first at one place than another (we had been told repeatedly that everyone in Japan speaks English, and if they don't do that they at least READ English and we only needed to write what we wanted ... turned out to be extremely not true or we managed to find that portion of the public that didn't pay attention in school).
After much exercise we finally found the place... the "Rincarn" hotel, spelled exactly that way. I refuse to speculate on how Nadirrah came to email me with the name Lincoln.
So we get ourselves checked in and go exploring.... found a 7-11 convenience store! WOOHOOO! Candy, chips, a full selection of sushi, Coke and all the cold green tea on the planet! Instant coffee granules! LIFE! (Interestingly enough, no beer, saki, etc). I even got to show off my Japanese number skills when the clerk said the total out loud and I was able to figure out how much to give her! (Hey, *I* was impressed with myself)
When we got back to the hotel we discovered Nadirrah had left a message and we finally made contact. We were to meet her at a little local tavern, the Knot Hole, where she and Jill would be performing that night (we declined to dance from general exhaustion). The place was just up the street and served pizza!
Before going we took a little time and checked out the hotel room. We wondered if we had ended up in a love hotel -- we still think we did. (Note: for those of you who aren't familiar with the concept, a "Love Hotel" isn't a trashy concept... the apartments in Japan tend to be microscopic...my sponsor lived in a place that was smaller than my college dorm room and it wasn't unusually small by any means. For married couples who want some time alone a nice but low-priced place is invaluable.) Apparently it is also common for people to stay here who miss the last train out at night since it is close to the trains.
This is Nadirrah's whole apartment. You can see the whole thing but the bathroom in this picture.
The hotel room itself was pretty darn small, but it had the greatest ultra-deep bathtub and a western toilet (with two flush settings... one for little business, one for big)! It also had a very odd lighting fixture... a light bulb sticking out and half a lamp shade glued over it directly to the wall.
Additionally, there were no instructions in English for anything anywhere. Not the TV, not check-out time sheets, not for the phone, nothing nothing nothing. ---After being there 5 days we finally figured out there were restaurants and shops one flight up!
Sooooo... that night we went to the Knot Hole and snarfed up pizza and got reunited with Nadirrah and Jill. Tons of fun!
The next morning was one of our sightseeing days set aside. We went down to Kobe on the train (I LOVE the train system there!!! I was SO disappointed when I tried to use Amtrak to commute in the US and discovered it was truly a completely flaky system) to a giant covered shopping mall place.... streets roofed over for blocks in several directions and tons of shops. Kobe is known for pearls and SHOES!
Here is a picture of the mall.... note the McDonald's and Gap signs....
We stopped at a neat place for a late lunch where Nadirrah promptly got food poisoning... even the trip to the Shinto shrine (where we made a prayer for the show to come) didn't keep her from manifesting spectacular sickness later on that night-- she steadily became more ill until she exploded after going with Jill and Cynara to (and not indulging in) an early dinner.
See the white mayonaise bottle to the lower left of the picture? See the silver hot grill in the middle of the table? Perfect way to get food poisoning, which lovely Nadirrah at left is about to do. I am looking a bit dubious about the stuff in the bowl which we are supposed to cook....
Added 5/13... about food.
Food was an interesting thing... the first things people ask about is the food and the bathrooms so I'm going to take a second for a commentary on food.
I mentioned the spanish omelette morning and pizza at the Knot Hole. We DID eat Japanese food for at least half our meals, but we often had something NOT Japanese. Thai at a really incredible huge basement restaurant in Kobe, Ceasar Salad at Hard Rock Cafe --- I was so bummed my pictures of musical artist Prince's coat didn't turn out! I took them for my friend Andromeda who is probably his biggest fan ---, sweet and savory pastries from a corner bakery by the hotel, breakfast at Mr Donut (more savory egg and sausage filled pastries).
We also stopped at Starbucks in Kobe (THANK GOD) where I perplexed the staff by automatically whipping off my order in english Seattle coffee slang and was directed to point at the pictures on the place mat.
Most of the Japanese restaurants had plastic food outside so you could just show the staff what you wanted. Of course, many items were unrecognizable to us and that is how we ended up eating something I can only describe as hot and yellow at Ueno.
We were clearly not Japanese, so about half the time we were automatically given forks, but Cynara surprised me by mastering the chopsticks within one day... we had done a trial meal at home since she was concerned about food.... at home we thought perhaps she would have to live on saki and Poke sticks (the only items she didn't gag on from my menu), but once we got there she was picking up peas with chopsticks like a veteran and merrily snarfing up everything in sight, including the yellow stuff!
Japanese chopsticks were so much easier to handle compared to the Chinese ones I had always dealt with! MUCH thinner at the tips.
We also had a lot of food directly from the market. When we were in Tokyo we finally stumbled into the equivalent of a supermarket. We had wondered where in the heck natives got food, since we didn't see any markets of any sort.
Remember that when we were in Tokyo we were completely unescorted... and when we were in Nishi-Akashi (the Kobe end of the trip) we really didn't have a lot of time to mess around and mostly ate out or ate take-away from the bakery or the 7-11 in the room
We got to Tokyo and finally realized we weren't seeing open-air markets (except where the fish market alley is) OR Safeways!
After some wandering we found the supermarket in the basement of a big department store and were treated to the most fishy-smelling place ever! Still, it was full of everything from liquour to produce, tea to fish fish fish, and prepared goodies like boxed sushi and filled pastries. We were wildly pleased because the selection was huge and all the Tokyo restaurants were so insanely high priced ... we were frustrated at having to spend so much of our pearl money on FOOD! --- It wasn't like we didn't bring enough money... we just didn't want to spend it on FOOD!
Okay... back to the narrative...
I had had a cold that turned really fierce that day and was also getting quite sick.... knowing the next day I had to teach! By that early dinner time I couldn't make a go of it and stayed in the hotel while everyone else went to a Sushi place where they enjoyed selecting their Sushi from conveyer belts -- except Nadirrah who was barely maintaining I am told..
The Kobe Village Arts Center was a wonderful venue for the workshops, and the students were wonderful and plentiful! By the time I had to teach the workshops I was feeling much, much better and Nadirrah was feeling much much worse.
I had learned a pretty good chunk of dance-Japanese (up, down, left, right, faster, slower, 5...6...7...8, etc), but it turned out the english speaking community had gotten all excited about my arrival and turned out in force!
Americans, English, Australian, New Zealanders....probably 60% of the class spoke English as a first language!
We did beginning through advanced finger cymbal technique and step combinations, a challenging choreography to the music of Tarkan's "Simarik," and a specialty veil workshop - Single and double veil combinations.
The evening show was held on one of the best stages I have ever seen. Fabulous lighting, superb sound, beautiful room and such a receptive audience!
The show was both middle eastern and international dance and featured special international pots with Keiko Sakai doing a Chinese Maiken "Dancing Sword" dance -- very moving and elegant, a really superb and daring Brazilian Capoeira group, and a darling Irish dancer named Carey Lynn Asselstine who brought the crowd to a screeching halt with her high speed footwork!
Middle Eastern dance was well represented by the Zeina Dancers (Amira & Amani) who perform regularly in Shinsaibashi, Lotus and Yasmin from Kansai, Zahreen (director of Tekka Chance Belly Dance in Hilo, Hawaii), Elizabeth Dickens of Spokane, WA plus Nadirrah (Nishi-Akashi, Japan), Cynara (Vancouver, WA, USA) and me (got a standing ovation so I must have been over the cold).
That's the end of the dance portion of the program, so I won't overload this file with pictures from the glorious castle at Himeji, Kobe Hard Rock Cafe, or the Tokyo Met, or the Zoo at Ueno, or the Japanese Gardens, or the pearl shops, or the market or Chinatown, or our incredible room in Tokyo that overlooked this gorgeous park... and we never did find out what the yellow stuff was that we had for lunch at the zoo...
Our thanks to Nadirrah and Akiko and all our love to Nadirrah (We love you, queen bee. YOU ARE ONE HECK OF A TROUPER!!!) & Jill.(thanks for being your old wild self, girl).
Plans are in the works for future workshops in Japan. Watch this space.
Saturday workshops and Sunday International Dance Spectacular featuring SAQRA!
Saqra (from the West coast of the United States) is a popular performer, workshop instructor, and promoter in the United States and Canada.
This exciting performer is known for her skill with finger cymbals and her ability to fascinate audiences everywhere with her technical ability and warm personality.
Don't miss the chance to study the beauty of belly dance with this award-winning master dancer. You may visit her english-speaking website at WWW.SAQRA.NET
WORKSHOPS - Saturday, May 19th Workshops: Kobe Art Village Center, 4F, Rehearsal Room
10:30 - 11:30 Zill workshop - Beginning through advanced finger cymbal technique and step combinations.
12:00 - 3:30 Choreography workshop - A spirited and challenging choreography to the music of Tarkan, a hot Turkish pop song: "Simarik."
3:45 - 4:45 Specialty Veil workshop - Single and double veil combinations
Space is limited. Please contact:
In English, Elizabeth Ramsey phone 078-925-0969 or e-mail email@example.com
In Japanese, Akiko Ueda, fax or phone 078-914-9125
INTERNATIONAL DANCE SHOW - Kobe Art Village Center Hall
Monday, May 21st - Doors open: 6:30 - Show: 7:00
Featuring Saqra and guest dance artists!
Please contact: Elizabeth or Akiko to reserve seats.
Copyright(c) 2011 Saqra. All rights reserved.