Castle and Izakaya! (Day 9 – March 19)

This Saturday was going to be quite an interesting one, to be sure. There would be an all-day excursion out and about in Nagoya. Some of the RA’s were going to guide us around, taking us first to see one of two iconic Nagoya sights…. either Nagoya Castle, or Atsutajinguu temple. You get to choose one you went to… then you would have lunch in the area of the sight you went to, before meeting back up with everyone in Sakae, and then eventually heading towards Nagoya station.

When we had to decide on which place we were going to go to (it was decided in class), I was a bit torn. Atsutajinguu temple is a wide open, beautiful temple… but Nagoya is a beautiful Castle. It was a tough decision… but overall, I feel Japan has far more temples than it does Castles, so I decided to go for the Castle. Regardless of which one I would have chosen, eventually I would go to visit the other one anyway, as I really do wish to see as much of Japan (and Nagoya) as I can.

When the day started, it was with waking up early enough to get showered and ready for the day (including emptying out my backpack). We were supposed to meet at I-House at around 10am, which means I woke up around 8, to make sure I had plenty of time to get everything ready, as well as go draw a little money from the ATM for souvenirs. Once at the location, we were split into two seperate groups… those that would be going to the castle, and those that would be going to temple. Regardless, we all had to make our way in the direction of the bus stop, which meant a nice 10-15 minute walk down the street… which altogether wasn’t all that bad, as its a straight shot… and right next to the only 711 on the street (at least up to that point).

Once there, the RAs handed out day passes to everyone. Normally, a bus ticket from there to the nearest subway (Hongo Station) is 210 yen for one way. You figure you ride the bus to station and back, thats 420 yen… the train ride (which we would be using at least 4 times) ranged anywhere from 150 yen to 350 or so yen, depending on how far you were going. All-in-all, for a day trip such as was planned, it would likely cost somewhere i the neighborhood of 1400 yen or more… roughly 14 dollars. But with the day pass, on the weekend, you pay 600 yen, and the pass is good all day for unlimited bus and subway use… which means your saying 800 yen. The tickets to the castle were also paid,which was another 400 yen… all-in-all, it was really nice to have the transportation and entrance free….meant more money for a few souvenirs and food!

The bus ride to the train station was a relatively uneventful one, save for the fact that it was more full than I had ever seen the bus before…. practically packed with gaijin (foreigners) from both I-House and Proxy. It was actually a relief when we finally got to Hongo station about 15 minutes later, as the bus didn’t have the best air-flow, meaning it got quite warm in that bus, with so many people, as well as the day itself beginning to warm up as well. Yet eventually we would reach Hongo station, the trip through the ticket counter and towards the subway a quick thing. Again, an interesting thing to see so many people I knew waiting around for the train. Yet eventually, after about a 20 minute subway ride, we would have to split up, as the Castle group was heading to a different location than the temple group. So our massive party got split down by roughly half.

*Note – the picture of Jason looking to the left and recording with his phone was because as the train approaches, they actually play kind of pretty music to let you know…. so he was recording the approach of the train. At some point, I will take a video to let you hear it, just as I intend to take a few videos of numerous things around Nagoya… but we already see how well I’m keeping up with the blog, huh? 😛

We made the rest of the way with our fewer numbers, before finally getting off the subway and heading up towards the street above. Instantly, you could tell that the castle was near, as the view to the side was of a rather open area, either where a sizable moat could have been, or simply a large ditch that would deter anyone from trying to invade (I’m not entirely sure which, honestly). But even as we made our way towards the street that would lead around towards the actual entrance to Nagoya Castle, there was a little stand selling hotdogs right there… and given the hour it was (probably almost 11am or so now), a few of those there decided a nice hotdog would be a good, quick meal. And for only a couple hundred yen, it was well worth it!

 

The hotdog was damn good, eaten upon as we made our way inwards, to the actual entrance of the Castle. Once we were in front of the gate, we would actually stand around for a few minutes, letting our guides split us up into groups, as well as handing out our admission tickets so we could enter.

Once we actually entered got fully past the gate, and onto the castle grounds further… well, it was actually quite a beautiful sight, how well-cared for the grounds were. We were not even at the actual castle proper yet, but the grounds were so beautiful that they themselves could likely be as much an attraction as the castle, especially given how surrounded by urban environment the grounds were.

Before proceeding further inwards towards the castle-like building that was visible in the distance, there was a little stand selling what I believe is mochi… essentially, its a type of dough that they heat up, before covering in a kind of terriyaki glaze. I wasn’t necessarily the biggest fan of it, but it did look rather good, visually. But after trying that (I wasn’t the only one), we eventually began to head in the direction of the castle-like structure that was easily seen being somewhat close to us. It wasn’t the actual castle, likely something more like a pagoda, or maybe a little guard tower or something like that, as Nagoya castle is -much- larger in area and floors. But walking in that direction gave me a chance for more pictures…. I was actually the last in the group, as I kept stopping to get a good picture, before having to try and catch back up.

We headed past the building on the corner, coming to a rather sizable open area. We never actually proceeded forward, so I don’t actually know whats in that direction (I may visit again in the future and go exploring further). Rather, there was a small bridge to our right that I took a picture of that would lead us deeper into the grounds proper, and closer towards Nagoya Castle’s main buildings. There was first a rather large path that we had to follow, but upon turning a corner, there was a rather beautiful building in front of us.  I don’t actually know what it is at the time of taking the pictures, but I would later learn (primarily from going inside and walking around) that its Hommaru Palace. There were many signs inside that gave information as to the purpose of the building, its construction, and other relevant historical facts.  Upon entering, we had to remove our shoes, as well as lock up our bags in lockers, before being allowed to walk through the area.

*Note – Tons of pics for this one. <_<

Eventually, as we walked, it tended to be a rather sizable circle, we wound back up at the entry way, where we had put up our shoes and bags. After a quick little collection of our items, we would proceed back out of the building and head a little bit further down the path. At this point, Nagoya Castle itself could be clearly seen majestically in the background. Walking further, following the path around, there was a souvenir shop present on the way… so obviously had to stop in and take a look around! There were a couple nifty items, and I ended up purchasing a thing or two myself. (unfortunately didn’t take pictures of them)

But after a little souvenir browsing, it was eventually time to make our way towards the Castle itself, and beginning to explore the interior! As we eventually made our way inside, it would start in an entry building, before making our way towards the actual castle itself, which has many of the floors set up in the fashion of a museum. As we entered, we actually took an elevator towards one of the uppermost floors, just below the top most. The view from this floor was rather wonderful, though I didn’t actually get to spend a lot of time looking around, as it was busy, and the RAs were attempting to keep to a rather quick schedule. So we only had about 10, maybe 15 minutes up there… most of which was spent taking pictures (but they had a souvenir shop there as well).

After we got a little time to look around the top floor, this is when we began to slowly work our way down through the other floors on our way back towards the bottom. The floors had many things, such as relics of past items (such as money chests, weapons armor), model maps of the castle and area, a setup of what a conventional village  street might have been like… as well as numerous other things.  The first floor we came upon simply had a lot of the relics I mentioned, including chests, a wall scroll, as well as armor and a model of the castle. The picture of the three men pulling a rock was to give example of the labor the Japanese people did in dragging the stones to build the Castle, much in the fashion of the Egyptians and the pyramids (but not quite as big or heavy, obviously).

After that floor, we headed on down to the next one. This one was set up with many rooms that might show what life was like back in the feudal era, of how a street and bridge might have been, as well as things such as meals, libraries and other conventional rooms in the Japanese household. The floor was really interesting, as the lights would actually dim down at intervals to simulate night. Along with speakers throughout the floor, it would seem as if you really were on a street back during the time period. One room (the one with the bridge and obviously lit up wall) would actually change with the light, to display sunset and then stars, before lighting back up with the morning and day. It was a very interesting effect that added to the realism of the environment of the floor.

Dunno why but the pics got a little mixed up. But anyway, it would be down towards the next floor we went. This one didn’t have quite as many visual things, possessing a lot more text and pamplets and stuff (that I obviously couldn’t read). But it did have some rather sizable models that were really interesting.  Some of them I guess showed how the structuring of the buildings went, while another was more a model of Nagoya Castle, as well as the surrounding area, either currently or how it was back in a certain period of time. Regardless, they were pretty cool…. I dunno if I would have the patience to make one of these with as much detail, and make it look as good.

Unfortunately, this was the last floor that we were allowed to wander around. We made our way back out of the Castle, and headed in the direction of a building that was outside the entrance to the Castle grounds. The food was pretty good, though it was just slightly pricier than you might find elsewhere, likely because it was next to such a landmark. The dessert? It was some kind of smores dessert, but I did not care for it at all… it had an odd texture and taste to it that didn’t quite match up with smores. But the ramen was good!

During the meal, there was actually a little Japanese girl who kept looking over a wall towards Jason… yet every time he would look, she would duck back. Eventually, he just waved at her, and she began to wave quite happily and almost frantically, not only to Jason, but to all the other foreigners that were eating in the area as well. As we left, she actually started crying, I think because she was enjoying waving at us. It was rather cute… she was probably like 2nd grade or there about.

But eventually, the meal was done, and we headed back towards the subway. to make our way towards Sakae. We actually walked around inside the Sakae subway once we got there. That might seem a little odd, yet many of the larger subway stations, like Sakae and Nagoya actually have larger underground malls with many types of stores. There were clothing stores, food stores, book stores…. even a Dunkin` Donuts! And much like a normal mall, there were people walking everywhere, some there for the shops, others for use of the subway itself. It was quite interesting to see. One of the shops actually sold fruit… and one of the things I had heard about was how expensive some fruit was. A melon the rough size of a cantaloupe? Roughly 30 dollars US! That’s crazy to me… none of the other fruit I immediately saw was priced to such an extent.

But after a bit of walking around the underground mall area, we eventually found our way towards one of the exits that would take us up onto the streets, and in the center of Sakae’s main entertainment area. It was rather easily distinguished by the building with the large Ferris Wheel upon the side of it. Unfortunately, because of our time table, we only were given about 30 or so minutes to wander around and look around. So we actually went to explore the store that is across from the Ferris wheel, a place called Donquioxte or something of the like. Basically, it was a 6 story building. The first floor was a type of small grocery store, the second and third were kind of variety stores, and then the top couple floors were cafes and restaurants, including a maid cafe! It was funny, cause a couple of the guys actually wanted to go to the maid cafe, but the RAs had to veto it because of how little time we had in the area. But more than anything, the trip to Sakae was just meant to show us where to go more than anything else.

Eventually, our time of exploring this store would draw to the end. There would be a bit of time where we would stand around, waiting for everyone to gather up, before heading back in the direction of the subway system.  We would now be on our way to the next stop along the line…. Nagoya. Amusingly, on the way through the Sakae station, we passed by a Krispy Kreme… and -everyone- had to stop and get themselves a donut or three, before we would finally start making our way back towards Nagoya Station. This is the largest station, being the central hub of all the subway stations, as well as all the trains that go to other cities in the country. As some of the pictures show, there were a LOT of people around. But it was also a Saturday, but I imagine its likely as busy on the weekdays as well. We were shown two clocks that were some of the main meeting points that are used when you meet people at the Nagoya Station.

This officially ended the day tour that the RAs were giving us, so we were now given a decision. Either we could head back with the RAs to Proxy, or we could actually stick around and explore a bit. I myself was on the fence a bit, though I eventually figured a little exploring couldn’t hurt. Jason actually headed back, as did a fair number of people. A lot of them likely wanted to have time to get ready for the Izakaya tonight. I decided to tag along with a couple guys and do a little exploring… though we honestly didn’t explore too far away from the station. We found a rather sizable store that was multi-leveled, and decided to look around. It had electronics, some anime stuff, houseware… pretty much a ton of stuff. We explored each of the floors, though one of the areas that most interested me was a section of wall around the anime stuff. It interested me because it was full of One Piece figures, which is actually probably my favorite anime. So I of course just looked at them all, drooled slightly, and wished I had a bunch of the figures.  This display of figures probably had thousands of dollars invested into it… and yes, that is likely not an understatement.

Anime figure collecting is a big thing in Japan, and for many people who enjoy anime. Much like how some people get model cars to put together and display, some people collect stamps, or coins, or any other such hobby, this works in much the fashion. It tends to just be a bit pricier when your in the states, as you have to pay for delivery and importing… and the figures might be anywhere from 30-300 dollars, for 1 figure. It can get nuts, to be sure! But any hobby can, depending on how into it you get.

Eventually, after roughly an hour or so, we decided we would actually head back to the station, since it was likely going to take 40 or so minutes for us to get home. And everyone had agreed that they would likely wish a little time to relax, get showered and ready for the event tonight. So it was a rather uneventful return to the place. Apparently, the walking was bad enough that one of the guys actually fell asleep on the subway! (an impressive feat, in my book, given how loud it is).

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After getting back to Proxy, it was time to get showered and changed, just so I was fresh and clean for the Izakaya that we would be going to in a couple of hours. The waiting time was relatively fast lived, as it was actually only about 2 or 3 hours until we had to gather up for the Izakaya. Meeting in the lobby of Proxy, we headed in the direction of the bus station, to head back towards the subway system. Of course, once we got there, we stood around for probably a good 30-60 minutes, primarily so everyone could get tallied up and the money paid for the Izakaya…. it was 3000 yen per person. Roughly 30 dollars. While everyone waited, it was a good bit of time to socialize in the cool night air…

Eventually though, as everything was finally settled up for the cost, we would finally be on our way towards the destination. We met at the subway station, but we actually didn’t take it. Rather, we took a short walk down a hill next to it towards the Izakaya, which was actually a somewhat small place on the second floor of a building. But even as we arrived, apparently we were a bit earlier than expected, meaning (yet again), we got to wait outside for the room to get prepared. Hurry up and wait, Hurry up and wait… like the military all over again. But eventually, we would get into the Izakaya, and settled into the large room.

The room itself was rather sizable, which was good, as there was roughly 90 of us there! As everyone settled at their tables, grouped up with the friends they had made, we would get to put in some orders for drinks, as well as watch as some appetizers were brought out to us. Apparently, the food would be brought out intermittently, as well as the drinks, since 90 people ordering drinks is a tough thing for the half-dozen employees (that I saw) to take care of. Thankfully, in the front of the room was a large refridgerator stocked with beer… and though I am no lover of beer, I drank one with the people at my table, mostly cause I told Jason I would, to try and enjoy the night and experience new stuff! … and again, I found out exactly why I don’t like to drink beer. The first appetizer was a kind of potato cake, which was surprisingly good…. crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and flavored surprisingly well, for no more than was seemingly in it. This was accompanied almost immediately with a rather nice salad, which seemed like a rather good start to the night. This food was accompanied with pitchers of a fruity looking beverage, though I don’t know how much alchohol was actually in it, if any. But overall, it was really good… I probably could have drank it alone through the whole night and been rather happy.

As the night began to proceed on-wards, it became a little more apparent that the number of people was likely going to be a detriment to our orders. We only had 2 hours in this place, and myself and Jason, as well as a few others at the table, and ordered a handful of drinks at the very beginning, figuring it would take them a bit of time to get to us. But getting closer to an hour into it, we still didn’t have them. Mind you, it was primarily cause we were thirsty that we noticed, as the room was rather hot with that many bodies in it. But it was rather fun, socializing with everyone, meeting some new people, in a relaxed environment of food and drink like this. I can definitely understand why its a common practice for businessmen and college students to go to izakaya and karaoke after work and school… definitely helped you relax, unwind, and let the social-ness flow! As the time continued to flow forth, a bit more food was brought out. The first dish was a think egg-like sheet placed over cabbage/lettuce, with mayo and some other kind of sauce that  was rather tasty.  After that, some french fries with ketchup and mayo were brought out,  as well as some yakisoba and finally, what seemed like the final food for the night was this thing that looked like a chunk of meat on a stick. But surprisingly, it tasted just like a Salisbury steak on a stick… I wish I could have had that all night! And unfortunately, we still were not getting the drinks we ordered. Jason alone ordered like 10 drinks, primarily cause he figured if -any- of them got back, he’d get one or two, and then would hand out the rest to our table… yet it wouldn’t be until roughly the last 15 minutes of our 2 hours that our drinks would show up… Jason and I both got a couple of orange drinks that I don’t remember the name of, but the alcohol in it was pretty weak… it tasted more or less like OJ with ice. I also ordered sake, cause that is a big thing in Japan. The stuff I received was either very cheap, or, like beer, I simply don’t have the taste for it… it tasted very sharp and alcohol-like…. as in straight alcohol, and burned quite harshly going down. But still tried it!

 

Eventually, our time in the Izakaya would come to an end… as our 2 hours finally came to an end, and it was time for us to depart. This would be the point in time that everyone had to make a decision… would we make our way to take the last bus back to the nearest bus station and walk home for the night, or go to karaoke? At this point, it was close to 11:30, and I believe the last bus is either 11:30 or 11:45. What did I decide? Check the next installment to find out…

 

End of Day 9!

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