over 5 years ago

The day begins with attending the 6AM morning prayer at 一乗院. What that means is sitting silently in this dimly lit, laviously decorated temple listening to five monks chant for an hour. They were all quite good at singing (and would do very well on Smule apps if it ever releases a sutra track), and it was rather calming and enjoyable.

At the end of the prayer, they invited the guests to join in the recital of the famous Heart Sutra. Everybody who's grown up with buddhism knows the words by heart. Unfortunately for me, it was too difficult to learn how to say the words with Japanese pronunciation in realtime.

Breakfast was already in the room by the time we got back. Traditional Japanese breakfast consists of rice and cooked dishes. Much more toned down than last night's dinner, but still filling and healthy: miso, tofu, seaweed, a small tofu veggie hot pot, and fruit.

Before we left for Kobe, we visited two final destinations in Koyasan: 女人堂 (Women's temple) and 徳川家霊堂 (Tokugawa's mausoleum). In the old times, women were not allowed to enter Koyasan and can only rest briefly at the Women's temple. Should they choose to go on a pilgrimage, they can only take this long detour hike around the mountain. Good to see times have changed.

Tokugawan's mausolea hosted the famous 徳川家康 and his son 徳川秀忠, the first two shoguns of the Tokugawa regime. While the inside of the mauselea is supposed to be stunning, the exterior was pretty unassuming.

Three hours of driving later, we arrived in Kobe. The weather was --- well, just like Seattle, and not the Seattle in summer, but the Seattle that is 300 days of the year. This immediately killed off my plan to go towards the mountains for some scenic drive and night view. Instead, we decided to get some much needed eating and shopping done today.

For lunch, we had our first Kobe beef encounter at a teppanyaki place called 志ん. The chef was very excited to see two foreigners show up. He posed for every picture we took.

Unfortunately, my mom found the steak to be over-salted. The meat was really tender and juicy, but alas, I have to agree, it was too salty. Maybe the chef was paying too much attention to the camera and not enough to how much sodium he was pouring down.

Well, this simply means we have go to for steak again tomorrow!

The interesting part of today's trip was not what I bought, but how different people reacted to my lack of proficient Japanese. It is quite amazing, actually. Today is the first day I have had to speak a lot of Japanese involving a variety of circumstances.

1. Parking

Upon arriving at the hotel, we had to park the car in the hotel garage. The staff was very cheerful. He spoke no English, but was perfectly happy to shout Japanese at my mom (who knew zero Japanese) to direct her into the garage. He was also very considerate in asking me if I wanted to park before 2PM, which would cost me an extra day of parking fees (we were fine with that). Then he gave me the ticket and ushered me to the front desk.

2. Hotel front desk

Some of the hotel staff spoke a little English. I have come to realize that if the staff speaks a little English, and I speak a little Japanese, in between us there is pretty much nothing we cannot communicate. I showed him the address of the teppanyaki place and he was able to direct us there with a map and an accurate walking time estimate.

The second time I went to the front desk, I must've said something funny (but I can't understand why, naturally) and made the whole counter laugh. Oh well. That time there were no English-speaking staff there.

3. Dessert shop

This was the most chaotic Japanese speaking experience of the day. The issue here is I do not know ANY of the dessert names besides the simplest word "cake". I had no idea how, when, and where to order. Not surprisingly, the staff spoke zero English. First she finally understood I wanted to eat here and showed me upstairs. Then she brought the menu and further confusion arose. The problem was the menu did not contain actual dessert items. Rather they were "sets". Set A could be: cake of your choice + black tea or orange juice. Set B could be: two scoops of ice cream of your choice + green tea. I was able to tell her I wanted a set that contained cake + black tea. She asked me what cake I wanted. I said "strawberry cake" and she asked "Did you mean strawberry shortcake?"

Well, the order was right. But is this really shortcake? I think it's just cake.

Then my mom caused more trouble. I asked her what she wanted. She said nothing cuz she didn't want to get fat. I stared at her and said she had to order something. She said "something with fruit", which I was able to translate but wasn't very helpful, because the waitress just asked back "Was there anything downstairs you wanted that had fruit?" Finally we all realized we should do it the primitive way --- go downstairs and point at food. So my mom did, and all was well. She even enjoyed the fruit custard she ordered.

4. Department stores

Most of our purchases at department stores today were very simple. We took our merchandise to the counter, paid, and only had to answer two things: (1) no gift-wrapping; (2) yes you can charge the card once (I'm still not sure what this means and am asking my Japanese teacher about this, I think it means pay in full and not with interest).

By far the most interesting and most heartwarming encounter, was with the staff at Albion. Albion is a Japanese skincare/cosmetics brand. For years I've sworn by their famous toner but they don't sell in the US. Again, I did not know any cosmetics words like: toner, makeup, pressed powder, or powder foundation. As I stood by the counter, one of the staff approached. I first explained that I was a foreigner, then pointed to the picture of the toner and the powder foundation and said I wanted to buy the toner and try on some foundation. She understood and led me to sit down at the counter.

I don't know if she always spoke like that, but she spoke very slowly, clearly, and used mostly simple expressions as she tried on different foundation colors on my face. I was able to understand everything she said. The process of trying on makeup is universal, so we got that done very quickly. But then my mom also wanted to try on makeup. While she repeated the same procedure on my mom, she started chatting with me: she asked if I was a study abroad student in Japan, where I lived, etc. She even corrected my Japanese when I said 5 months and meant the month of May. It was by far the most pleasant speaking experience I've had so far, and this is why: she understood that, to compensate for my lack of proficiency, I was willing to make up words that resembled what I wanted to convey (I do this with English too), and she would verify it by repeating my request in correct Japanese and ask "Is this what you wanted?" It's a rare teacher-like ability that she possessed. Most of the other service people I encountered just tried to guess what I was saying and respond in their usual extreme formal Japanese; hence it was often difficult for me to understand whether they understood my question since I did not always fully comprehend their answer.

I should also mention that on our first day in Osaka, we got into a parking lot but did not know how to pay for it. It had a machine but did not work like in the US where you put in the lot number and time you wanted to pay for. I walked into the convenience store next door, where three old Japanese grandmas were chatting. I asked the grandma at the counter how to use the parking lot. She answered frankly "I don't know, I've never used it!" (which makes a lot of sense) and walked outside to look at the instructions on the large board with me. Neither of us could make out what it was saying because the words were tiny and 10 feet above. She mumbled "I can't read this" and went to grab a young man from the store next door, who was able to clearly explain to me how it worked: you pay when you leave. There's a lever under the lot that rises when you pull the car in and prevents you from driving away without paying. I was extremely thankful for the grandma and young man's help. That was the first true Japanese conversation I had, and the fact that no one seemed offended by my poor Japanese (which often had mixed levels of politeness, haha) was encouraging.

I still wish I had known more Japanese, but knowing as much as I have now has already made this trip different from my last to Tokyo and Kyoto many years ago. Sure, I was still able to get around back then, but I stuck to extremely popular tourists spots that required only the ability to read Kanji on the subway map.

We went back to the hotel and did a little bit of exercise in the hotel room. My mom has actually gotten stronger since Ashley and I taught her how to do push ups and basic stretching in Seattle 2 years ago! She still can't do a single push up though :)

For light dinner, we went across the street to a chain curry restaurant. I ordered chicken curry with spinach. I ordered it at 3 star spiciness (max is 6) and it would've easily been a 5 or 6 star in the US, heh.

Here's to hoping better weather tomorrow for some sightseeing in Kobe!

← Day 2: Koyasan Day 4: Kobe, almost a sunny day →