Thursday, April 26, 2007

I’m on the 11th floor of our Saitama Hotel and am looking out at the blue skies and modern buildings and am shaking my head up and down, its Japan – but I’m not in Kansai anymore.

When we arrived to Kansai in 2001, I was shocked at all the electrical wires above ground, the mismash of housing, the chaotic landscape. Yesterday, driving on a similar chartered bus that I rode on from KIX to Himeji in 2001, I couldn’t help but thinking how clean, new, and green it all looked. Very Singapore-esque.

Our hosts were five 50’s-something Japanese men, and they were a riot from the moment we met them. The Japanese team who was visiting Seattle last month was on a plane due to arrive one hour after ours – and the plan was to wait at Narita for them. As our little bus pulled away from Narita, sans the Japanese team, one of these men went into a tale of how their airplane had mechanical difficulties midway over the Pacific and was rerouted to Alaska. Where they are now stranded for another day.

So to protect us through our trip, they thought it wise to take us to the Narita Shrine to pray for us.

And to buy a few bottles of sake, which were promptly opened and poured as we got back on the bus.

Two hours later we were at the hotel in Saitama – big, new, with our own rooms. And whisked away to a late dinner with an amazing spread of sashimi, salads, tempura, ‘chawan mushi’, and these huge bean pods that look like edamame on steroids. Oh, and escargot for an appy.

A beer later and I was ready to head back…but no bed before onsen. And I embarked on a solo mission to find the hotel’s hot bath. I kept chanting…Mi ‘go slow’, ‘read signs’, ‘Don’t make any rookie mistakes’. Finding what I thought was the bath, I went through the normal routine and opened the door to the bath. But I was quickly disappointed by the bath – very small, not elaborate. Thinking I must be in the wrong place, I wandered around a corner where I heard more voices. I stood for a good 3 seconds wondering why I was naked looking at a swimming pool where folks were doing laps.

After that, the little bath seemed just fine and I wanted to escape to my room as soon as possible. I’m still convinced that I found the wrong bath and can’t figure out where the other might have been hiding.

Maybe the entire day was best summed up, by one of our Japanese hosts, during our first sake pour on the bus, “it’s going to be a party every night”.

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