Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Bodacious Beef, Cheerful Cherry blossoms, and Titillating Toilets

Yesterday I tasted the most succulent, delectable, buttery, mouth-watering, curl-your-toes piece of meat I've ever imagined. Kobe is known for its beef, and now I know why. See that glazed over look on my face in the photo above? That's because I was in beef-heaven. I couldn't focus on anything else. I had this sublime experience. It was the most tender, juicy steak I've ever tasted, cooked right in front of me on the hibachi grill.

I even had a piece stuck in my teeth that I didn't pick out, because it just tasted that good. The price was $40 for a 150 gram steak for lunch. Dinner is even more expensive. But that meat was worth every single penny. Cuts of beef like that would turn a vegetarian carnivore.

Everything is exalted in Japan. Not just the taste of the meat, but the prices, availability of beer in vending machines on the streets, the friendliness of its people, the immigration process, and of course the cherry blossoms.

Usually clearing immigration is a huge, crazy process for 825 students, 100 faculty/staff, and 200 crew- but in Japan it was beyond crazy. Step 1: we each had to walk past a radar thermometer which detected our temperatures. They wanted to make sure we weren't bringing any diseases from China, nor elsewhere. My temperature was 38.5 degrees C or something like that. Before Step 2 we had our diplomatic briefing which is when the American diplomats come on board and tell us about safety. Step 2: Our staff distributed passports to everyone, which took us from about 9 AM to 1 PM. Somehow, everyone but me, Shirl and Sarah went to lunch so the three of us were stuck there all morning distributing the passports. Step 3: Once everyone has a passport, they wait on a line and then have a face-to-face inspection, they are fingerprinted, and finally the passport is stamped. Some countries don't even bother stamping passports, nor do they send a diplomat. Other countries stamp passports, but it's quick. Japan, on the contrary was not messing around.....

When we finally got off the ship, we wandered the streets of Kobe. Kobe is very clean and quite friendly. Speaking of being friendly, I met up with a former colleague and friend, Motoko who moved here last summer with her husband, Matt. They teach English with the JET program and live right in Kobe. Shirl, Andrea and Lisa came with me to meet Mo and we were standing at the train station, people-watching and all of a sudden Mo came leaping across the floor, screamed, jumped in the air and hugged me tightly! It was the most grandiose greeting I've had in a long time! Mo, her husband Matt, and their friend Gina came along too. We went to dinner and they gave us the "ins and outs" of Kobe. First of all, there are vending machines EVERYWHERE. They sell soda, tea, hot coffee, sake, beer and just about anything else you might want.
Could you imagine a beer machine in the US? Kids would go crazy! Then Mo showed us around Kobe. We ate dinner, followed by a McFlurry from McDonalds with Green tea ice cream. Mo introduced us to the $100 Yen store (like the dollar store in the US) and I bought all of these silly little things like candy and magnets and greeting cards with hilarious sayings which got lost in translation. Like a wedding card that said "Happy Wedding. You are my best partner."

Mo, Matt and Gina had to go to work the next morning, so we parted ways and hugged goodbye. Goodbye, old friend!
The next day was the day I had the succulent meat (sorry it's out of order- I was just too happy about it to leave it for the middle of my blog).
Oh! And another wonderful thing about Japan? THE TOILETS! First of all, they have heated seats. And a little panel that controls the temperature. Then there were all of these other Japanese buttons, which I couldn't read. So I just started pressing them. One of them had this warm stream of water, which squirted out underneath me. It was like a mini-shower for your arse. And another button made the jets stronger. Another one made the water warmer. I couldn't find the "stop" button, so I just sat on the heated toilet seat and enjoyed. Finally, my friends knocked on the door and told me "Laurie, you've got to leave the bathroom now! People are waiting" Janetta was apparently enjoying it too, because I heard her screaming in the next stall! It took me five more minutes to find the "stop" button, and I finally had to say goodbye to the magical toilet.

After the delectable lunch and toilet experience we (we = Janetta, Shirl, Hayley, Sarah, Nate, Lisa and I) went to Kyoto where there is a castle (Nijo castle) and cherry blossoms. Now the thing about cherry blossoms is that they only bloom for a couple weeks out of the year. And we just happened to be here when they were in full bloom. Did we time it right, or what!?

Well, let me back up for a minute.....our timing was a little off. We accidentally took the local JR train, which took us an hour and a half. On the way back we found the express which got us back to Kobe and the ship in 40 minutes. It was like taking the C train versus the A train from Inwood to JFK airport. (If you live in New York you get this analogy...)

Anyhow, well worth the local train ride. Look how beautiful:

Did I tell you how much I loved Japan?

How much do I love thee, Japan? Let me count the ways: ich, ni, san, chi.......

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