The first day of my trip was a Friday, and of course, it was filled with mostly traveling. After flying to Los Angeles, I had to kill five hours in the international terminal, so I watched a couple episodes of Star Trek on my Palm and watched the boarding of a really busy flight to Tokyo. The boarding for the Osaka flight was much easier, and the long flight passed by pretty quickly, thanks to free beer and the Disney Channel in Japanese! Matt was waiting for me at the airport, and we rode the bus together, chatting our way to Osaka station, where we caught a train to Sone, the station by Matt & Kumiko's apartment. We stopped to buy some drinks for later on the walk back to his place, where we were greeted by Kumiko and an awesome welcoming dinner! We had curry, salad, edemame, and a yummy peach dessert! I gave them some goofy presents (toys) that I had brought, and we had fun playing with them and watching TV before bedtime.
The next morning I woke up excited about being in Japan, and packed some things and wrapped gifts for our upcoming two days of travel. We had an excellent French toast breakfast, along with grapes & yogurt plus a salad - I was spoiled already! We decided to spend the day in Kyoto, mostly at the train station, which is a huge architectural marvel full of fun things to do. First we shopped at the Tezuka store (I'm drinking coffee from a new Astro Boy mug as I type), and then we went to a cool exhibit of Anpanman art that was showing (Anpanman is a cute cartoon character who has been around forever, and everyone knows and loves him). The exhibit was packed, but the art was really fun! Next we went to fulfill a dream of mine - to eat a big fancy parfait in Japan (since I always see them in anime!). We checked out the selection and finally decided - I had the strawberry and Matt had the blueberry. Delicious! Just outside the station was a rather large temple, which we walked around and inside. It was so nice to sit on the steps with our shoes off and relax - that's the best part about temples that suddenly appear in the middle of a busy city.
Back at the station, we boarded a train to Yagi, a small town outside of Kyoto, to see my first hanabi (fireworks) festival! When we got to Yagi, we met up with Kumiko's brother Kazuomi, his wife Chiaki, and their cute son Daichi. It was so much fun to walk through the festival crowds, full of girls wearing yukata (summer kimono), and smelling all the great food. We found a spot by the river, then Matt and I went back to the stalls for some food and beer. I ate yakisoba while we watched a boat place hundreds of floating lanterns in the river, and it was lots of fun to play with Daichi! Just about anything could entertain him - after eating some shaved ice he started singing "Budou aji" (grape flavor) over and over again. The fireworks were amazing, with tons of huge displays that just kept coming for nearly two hours! Afterwards the walk back to the station was tremendously crowded, but it was still fun to be among a festive crowd.
Somehow the decision was made that we would all go to a sento (public bath) - this was definitely not my idea! I was terrified about being naked in front of strangers, but also kind of excited about experiencing another staple of Japanese culture! The sento was packed with folks at nearly midnight, all just enjoying each other's company and getting clean. The boys said goodbye to the girls, and then it was time for the locker room, where I just did what I had to do! Next were little bathing stations with soap and shampoo, and after that there were several "pools" to choose from (hot, cold, whirlpool), as well as a cool outdoor bath with rocks and waterfalls. It was actually really nice, and I'm so glad (and proud) I did it! Kazuomi was really nice about keeping me calm, too. Later that evening, I gave gifts to the family (plus finger-puppets for Daichi), then quickly fell asleep, happy to have experienced so much right away!
View photos: Days 1 & 2