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I explored so much of the city today, but I still feel like I barely made a dent in all that I know about it. Today, I exercised my "yes man" attitude and went on a spontaneous adventure exploring the city with Adam, an adventuring teacher from Phoenix who is a part of my cohort, and Kevin. Adam and I actually had two independent thoughts of wanting to explore the town today, and we just happened to bump into each other in the hallway at the same time when heading out. Kevin also happened to come out of his apartment hoping to go on a bike ride, so we convinced him to go exploring together as well. It didn’t take too much convincing as Kevin’s the type who seems up for just about anything. So, we stood in the parking lot for a bit, wondering where we should go, and decided to visit the museums near the Himeji castle after two minutes of contemplation.
We visited the museum of history first, followed by the museum of art which was unfortunately closed on Wednesdays. As we walked through the museums, we took our time looking at the architecture and design of things because it was really the only thing we could do since everything was written in Japanese. While Kevin has been in Japan for roughly one year now, we were all basically in the same boat of not being fluent readers of Japanese, especially when it comes to reading the Kanji. The Japanese language consists of syllabic scripts, hiragana and katakana, and kanji—Japanese-adopted logographic Chinese characters that are used in the Japanese writing system. It is said that if you know roughly 2,000 kanji, you are officially literate. To me, that seems do-able, but at this time, I would definitely need to focus more than I have been on learning Japanese. I would like to not feel like a tourist during the entire time that I am living here, so the motivation to learn Japanese is high.
After visiting the museums and on our way to Daiso (the dollar store equivalent for Japan), we made a detour to visit a couple temples. Buddhist temples are sporadic and abundant in the cities of Japan, and they drastically range in size. Some temples you can pass by without even realizing that it is more than a random four meter by four meter building next to a canal trail. Other temples have a grand gate at the front that is difficult to miss unless you're me. Ball parking it, I would say that Himeji alone (roughly the size of the city of Tempe) has around 40 temples.
While the temples do range in size, there is usually commonalities that every temple possesses. For example, most temples have an area to wash your hands and rinse your mouth. It can be described as a basin area with wooden ladles, where the ladles are used to scoop water from the basin and rinse your hand. Then you rinse your mouth by pouring more water into your hand, spitting the water out in the drain surrounding the basin. In addition, most temples also have a primarily shrine building. It is closed off to the general public to assess, but people can peer into the building from the outside. At the front of the shrine building, there is a donation desk, and after donating to the donation desk, one is allowed to ring the bell attached to the top of the shrine building using a long, thick rope. I am ignorant of the facts and reasoning for most features of Japanese shrines, but I can say that it is very different from Chinese Buddhist shrines in the United States.
Finally, we arrive at Daiso; it is my first time in the infamous dollar store of Japan, and I will say that it blows ANY dollar store in the United States out of the water. They have EVERYTHING at Daiso. From articles of clothes to alarm clocks to kitchen and office supplies. It was basically a dollar store version of Wal-Mart. We visited the bigger of the two Daisos in downtown Himeji; it was three stories tall and filled with all you can dream of and desire for. I bought some baby blue Crocs there because I’ve missed having Crocs in my life, and because I need some indoor shoes for school. Daiso is love. Daiso is life.
After Daiso, Kevin showed Adam and me the small standup sake bar under the train station. It was literally just a bar, one-sized for a home, and people go there (after work usually), order sake for 150 yen, drink, and leave. For 150 yen a glass, I'd say it was a pretty good deal, but sake isn't my drink of choice. Because it was fairly inexpensive, I decided to try a glass of sake for the first time EVER; it was okay. I was actually surprised by my lack of appallment for sake. We all ordered one glass of sake from that sake bar. The bartender placed a small glass atop a small plate and proceeded to fill the glass until it overflowed onto the plate, filling up both the glass and the plate with sake. The way you’d drink it would be to sip the sake from the glass first, thus allowing you to pick up the glass and finish the sake in the glass. Then, you would finish the sake on the plate last... I think that’s how it goes.
Right next to the sake bar, there is an import store, Kaldi’s, filled with imported foods from all over the world. It had Chinese food, Indian food, Mexican food, French food, and more. It had food/candy that I hadn’t seen since my childhood. Kaldi’s also carried alcohol from all sorts of places like France and Mexico, including Coronas and that delicious bubbly wine drink from Trader Joe’s. Best part is, surprisingly, all the food and drinks there were affordable. The cost was a minuscule bit higher than the price I would’ve paid in the States. It’s a great store, but unfortunately, I don’t cook enough (and don’t intend to dedicate much time to cooking or learning to cook while I’m here) to buy much food from Kaldi’s. Regardless, it has great coffee samples every day, so I visit more often than I should.
Thus, our adventure finally came to an end when we realized we haven’t eaten all day, and evening was approaching. So, we all biked back to Shirasagi, after which Kevin graced me with his presence during my running workout. We ran to the stairs of hell, did a workout of six to eight stair sprints, and started running back when I began to feel a bit lightheaded. Now, as many of you may know, I am stubborn and competitive as all hell, but I was lightheaded enough to a point where I had to stop running to attempt to regain focus and fully consciousness. It took us about 10 to 15 minutes (in my mind) to walk roughly 150 meters because of the number times I had to stop walking completely. At that time, I was wishing I’d just throw up and get on with my run, but the degree of lightheadedness was beyond anything I had ever experienced in the past. My vision started to be scattered, and parts of my vision began to get dark. I vividly remembered about 10 percent of the last 20 meters before reaching my apartment. I remembered talking to someone I hadn’t met yet (it was Barbara, a teacher from Australia also living in Shirasagi), and when I finally went through my apartment door, I immediately laid on the floor of my hallway. I was awakened by Kevin ringing my doorbell to hand me an Aquarius drink (the electrolyte water drink of Japan), and after that, I went back to laying on the floor of my hallway for roughly 45 minutes. I woke up 45 minutes later, drank the Aquarius drink, and felt like I wasn’t going to die. Thinking back on it, I was probably dehydrated from many things throughout the day: Not drinking enough water throughout the day, the sake bar, running itself, the weather. Lesson learned, and I have not passed out since then.
Later that night, we all (six people including myself) played another game of Catan. They all learned their lesson from the first game and decided to boycott trading with me and to target me as an enemy from the beginning. Regardless, I won again, leaving hearts and spirits broken left and right. I’m really glad everyone is the way they are here. Besides being individually amazing, they all tolerate my competitive spirit and me as a person, and I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to get to know them throughout this next year. I hope that after this year, I’ll come out of this experience with a better understanding of myself as well as a few lifelong friendships. So far, my time in Japan makes my hopes and dreams look promising.