Oniko's Travel Diary:|
The Saigoku Pilgrimage
(July 20-August 16, 1999)
August 11, 1999
I slept in; so much so, that I was still getting my stuff back together at ten, when the front desk girls called to see if I was checking out. Quick set of questions in Japanese, a broken response from me, then the other side saying "Ah!", then repeating the questions in broken English. We sorted it out.
I had a busy day ahead. It was time to officially cut my trip shorter; I estimate that I'm spending an average of about $100 a day on shelter, food, transport, and temple related fees... and more if I buy books and such. My funds are getting short, so it's time to set an end date for this trip.
I went to Kyoto station; I would have to travel from it to reach the next set of temples, and it was the best place to ask my big question. At the tourist information office, I asked if there was a United Airlines office in Kyoto; they made a brief phone call, and said 'no', but there was one in Osaka... which was perfect, as that's where I had to head first anyway.
Now last year, I would have made a long distance call back to the travel agency in the states that I had booked the trip with, and asked them to make the change. This year, I have a bit more confidence in my Japanese, and by making the arrangements with United Airlines here, I save myself the long distance phone charge. So I entered the Kyoto rail station to go to Osaka.
There was one other thing I wanted to do today; and even though I decided not to do it, it turned out to be a bit of a delay at the stations I went to because of all the screaming kids. What were they screaming? "Pika, Pika!!"
Pokemon -- short for "Pocket Monsters" -- is a wildly popular cartoon series in Japan, and growing to be one in the states. One of the lead characters is a cute litle mouse like critter named "Pika-chu", who never says anything other than "pika" and "chu". Parents in the states be warned: the series has been running in Japan for three years already, plus there have been one TV special and two movies released, all waiting to be translated and released in the states. You're goping to see a LOT of Pokemon over the next couple years. In fact, the second movie -- just released to Japanese theaters this month -- is mainly the reason I was surrounded by screaming kids.
As part of a promotion for the new movie, JR rail lines had organized a Pokemon "Stamp Rally" that started today, and will last for two weeks. Remember how I ran all over a department store collecting stamps to earn two Astro Boy prizes earlier this month? Well, this stamp rally is the same premise, except the nine stamps you have to collect to earn the three prizes are at nine different JR rail stations all over the Kyoto and Osaka area. So overjoyed Japanese parents are being forced to buy rail tickets to all these stations for themselves and however many kids they have, so the kids can get all the stamps and all the prizes. Harsh, huh?
Now I have the JR rail pass, so traveling to all the stations would cost me nothing; on top of that, I have to travel through five of the nine stations to reach the next few temples anyway... so it seemed a simple thing for me to give the stamp rally a try. But my JR pass won't work for this; I would have to buy a special "JR Pokemon Rally" ticket to show at all the stamp sites, or I don't get a stamp book and I don't earn the prizes... and that ticket would cost me about twenty bucks, which I can't do right now; it's likely going to cost me $100 of my precious money supply to change my return date. So I must miss the stamp rally. Sigh...
So I went directly to Osaka station. There, I scouted around for a tourist information center or booth; but the only one I found was just information about the Osaka JR station itself (it's a big station-department store combination). So I decided to ask at a Koban... the station's police station. It turned out to be exactly the right thing to do; two other people came in to ask where various places were while I was waiting, so it seems to be one of the purposes of the kobans.
I was giving the name of the subway station to go to, and the name of the building it was in; so I took the subway to Namba, and from there walked through the underground shopping mall to the "O-CAT" building... which turned out to be an acronym for "Osaka Central Air Terminal," where all the airlines had offices. A quick search turned up the office, closed for lunch. I hadn't realised it was already past twelve; since I had a forty minute wait, I walked back to the underground mall where I had seen a bakery, and bought brunch. After I'd eaten, I walked back to the office and dug out my tickets, then waited.
My Japanese is getting better; I was able to ask for what I wanted, and was understood on the first try -- it feels good when those tiny moments occur, and all the hard work starts to show a little. In less than ten minutes, the change was made: instead of returning to the states on the 24th, I'll be returning on the 16th. And, because I did it at the airline office instead of through my travel agent, I not only saved the long distance phone call, but I also saved the $100 my travel agent would have charged for the change... United Airlines didn't charge me for the alteration. Such are the rewards of speaking the local language!
Now, the countdown is running. I want to be in Tokyo on the 14th for the Comic Market Comic Convention, if I can manage it; and on the morning of the 15th I want to try to meet a friend at the Tokyo Imperial Palace Grounds, and then jump on the Shinkenzen train back to Kyoto so I'm in this area again on the morning of the 16th. That means I have two and a half days to complete the Saigouku pilgrimage (I need the last half of the 13th to ride the Shinkenzen to Tokyo and get a hotel).
Five To Go.
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