Thursday, March 18, 2004

The Lovely Sharon
Do not adjust your browser settings, nor your brain. The timestamp on this entry is correct. It is nigh unto 5am. I have not been asleep since 3am, and having given up on sleeping anymore, you get to profit. Behold the much anticipated, I'm sure, next installment of my trip to Japan.

On Monday late-morning, I trundled out with my trusty suitcase to meet Sharon, who had graciously agreed to be my keeper until Danola got back from Yokohama and demanded my presence. Sharon was, of course, late. As she said, "You wouldn't believe it was me if I wasn't." This is true, and I wouldn't have given the drivers going across the big bridge that I used to see from my back window last year nearly so much to speculate about, standing around waiting for her on the corner as I was. From the corner, we went to her apartment, which turns out to be the apartment of a Japanese friend who is abroad this year, and whose parents are letting Sharon rent the apartment from them so their daughter doesn't have to find a new place when she gets back. Therefore, she is living in the building "in secret." It also turns out that her apartment is nearly dead center between the Atago-bashi and Itsutsubashi subway stations, which doesn't mean anything to people who don't live in Sendai, but which is extremely nostalgic for me, and for the layman translates to a location approximately a 5-7 minute walk from my old apartment. If only she had lived there last year! Of course, if she had, I wouldn't have had so many reasons to constantly take the train out to Shiogama, and she wouldn't have been able to throw any of her apartment-packing parties, since the new apartment is only one room, and the old apartment was a palatial four. Never fear, though; my beloved co-"Muji Monster" has put her own ever tasteful stamp on her borrowed apartment as well, and I felt much like I was living in luxury.

We didn't stay at her apartment long. After dropping off my stuff, we set out to Atago-jinja, which is the shrine (actually a temple, I guess) on the hill behind my old apartment. As you may recall, I didn't visit it until my year in Japan was almost over, even though I could see the entrance every day. In any case, Sharon hadn't been yet, and wanted to go, so we went. She liked the Buddha riding the elephant as much as I did, and as we were walking around the circle to see the rest of the Buddhas, one of the monks actually came over to talk to us. He was actually up there supervising the construction that's being done, apparently to restore the roof on one of the older temple buildings, but after a very nice conversation, in excellent English, in which he asked us where we were from, where we (had) lived in the area, what we did, and told us his name and to ask him any questions, he also told us we should take the stairs down the other side of the hill so we could see the larger, more proper temple complex. It seemed like a good idea to me, as I was fairly certain I knew where the other stairs came out, as it had been on my walk to Mukaiyama.

When we got to the bottom of the stairs, I was astounded. I had no idea there was so much else over there. The true main temple is not at the top of the hill after all, it's only halfway up, and hidden from the road I walked on by intervening houses. The most I had ever seen of it was part of the graveyard. The building(s) are truly huge, not to mention much more modern, in a traditional way, than everything at the top of the hill. The best part for me, though, were all the little foot-high comic monk statues set in the garden border of the sidewalk. I think I took half a roll of film just of pictures of them. As we were leaving, we saw the most gorgeous, and gigantic, Siamese cat sitting on the edging of a wall, its colors perfectly matched to the light walls and dark woodwork edgings and roof, and the most brilliant blue eyes. It came down the stairs to visit us, and I got its picture. It's not developed yet, though, so I hope it turned out well.

Also from the temple area, I was able to point out the roof of Mukaiyama's gym to Sharon, and then we walked back to Atago-bashi station via my old route home from school. Sharon thought it was quite neat, but she was not subjected to the big hill. When we walked past my old apartment, I could see there were new curtains in the window, and it at least seems the new person living up there has similar tastes in curtains to me, rather than to whichever ALT predecessor of mine who left the weird dark blue acetate Zodiac symbol-covered ones. Whoever it is up there, though, they're no longer an ALT. My sucessor was moved across the street to the same, newer building as the landlords live in.

We were headed to Atago-bashi because our next stop was to try to see one of the well-known temples in Kita-Sendai. Of course, when we got to Kita-Sendai, we had no idea where we were trying to go, as maps only make sense while you're looking at them, not when you leave the station and are faced with the actual (unlabeled) streets of Japan. We walked around for probably 15 minutes or so before we found a man to ask for directions, which we accurately followed and it did get us there, except, we later realized, by a very roundabout way. We walked up the stairs to the temple's gardens, and they were lovely. There was a very interesting sort of boxy pyramid frame that had been built around a massive vine, probably wisteria. There were various nice statues, and an arbor, I think, and some ornamental trees, but what really caught my attention was the hand-washing fountain on the other side of all that. It was another dragon-shaped one! I saw my first one when we were in Kyoto. The one at Kita-Sendai was even more impressive, although not a pretty blue-green. Instead it was black with gold highlights. I can't wait to see the pictures of that one.

We managed not to get lost on the way to the train station from there, and we were just in time to grab the express train to Tagajo, where Kristel lives. We went with her to the little coffee shop that Kristel and Sharon basically called home last year. We sat there forever, talking, the only people in the shop. I'm sure the woman who runs the place was starting to wonder if we'd ever leave, but she didn't seem much to mind. Eventually, though, Kristel had to get home and Sharon and I whisked back to Sendai on the train. We stopped at the grocery store to get food, and I finally got to have yakisoba again, despite everyone's insistence that it actually exists in the US. I am simply cursed that the store will always be just out when I get there.

We spent the latter part of the evening watching one of Sharon's Japanese TV shows. She wasn't much into them last year, but now, like me, she has gotten caught up in the drama. I can't remember if Monday was the night with the three hockey players who all have burgeoning relationships, or the one about the father who is trying to win custody of his daughter, and in the process falling in love with the nanny as she teaches him how to actually be a father. The father one, incidentally, stars the same SMAP boy who was in the show I watched last year about the chemistry teacher who found out he was dying of cancer and was inspired to do the things he'd always wanted to do. The man playing his character's father in the new show played his father-in-law in the show from last year. In some ways, it's rather like Chilean TV, because all the shows run for a limited period of time, so you get to see the same actors over and over again, in many different roles, but somehow they all stay related to each other. You don't want to get me started on my Chilean show, Pampa IlusiĆ³n, though. I will be forever heartbroken that I didn't get to see the end of it.

Eventually, I passed out. In comfort, though, I must say. Sharon gave me her bed, you see, and made herself a nest on the floor. She said she was quite comfortable, because her apartment has a wonderful invention in the land-of-no-building-insulation: a electric heated carpet. Will wonders never cease. That ranks right up there with the kotatsu as one of the greatest Japanese winter survival things ever.

Well, this post is quite long enough for now, so you will have to wait until tomorrow, or rather, later today, or something, to hear all about the most disturbing teddy bear ever.

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