Monday, December 10, 2007

12/10/07 Surrounding Cities

Lately we have been branching out in our activities a bit. Having scoured just about every new area of interest that we can find in town, we have turned our attention outward, toward a couple of nearby cities. Me and my friends have a joke that everyone our age has left Ashikaga in search of more exciting places. So on the rare occasion that I do meet someone under 30, I ask them where they live. One of the common answers is Ota.

Ota is only a few train stops away from Ashikaga and costs less than 2 dollars to get to from the station that sits a block away from my house. The first two times that I traveled to Ota I barely left the train station, as it is connected to a good size mall complex. This building by itself has maybe ten ethnic restaraunts inside, safely more than the whole city of Ashikaga. Apparently there is a large immigrant population(by Japanese standards) here. Without even asking I can tell there are a good amount of Brazilians in this town, as there is a Brazilian eatery as well as a supermarket. There are also a fair amount of shoppers of Hispanic decent, which is quite common in the US but in Japan it is quite rare.

Here's a fun one. Mike posing with an excellent looking arcade game, The Typing of the Dead. No guns to defeat zombies here, just keyboards. We both agreed to use our imagination instead of actually inserting money into this goofy thing.

As all we did in Ota was eat, buy things, and play arcade games, there weren't a whole lot of notable happenings. Fun, though.

Tung had to sort out an issue that he was having with a travel company in Utsunomiya in person, and being the awesome friend that I am I tagged along. We took care of business quickly and early in the day, so we had plenty of time to discover the potential of our surroundings. Utsunomiya is the capital city of Tochigi Prefecture, and it quite a bit more urban looking than old Ashikaga. There are at least two very long streets lined with shops and completely covered by roof, creating a little tunnel-like strip mall setup that so far I have only seen in Japan.

We were on our way to a shrine that we had noticed earlier when we walked by a store advertising Japanese handmade goods and an inviting window display, so we took a peak inside. The lone store lady inside began picking up and showing us quite a few little uninteresting trinkets and I started to wish she would leave us alone. I must have feigned too much interest in her explainations or seemed a bit too nice because she pointed to the staircase leading to the second floor and mentioned that there were Japanese dolls upstairs. Great. Dolls. I humored her and sighed a bit to myself as I walked up the stairs. I'm glad that I did.

She wasn't kidding around when she said there were dolls. The well lit room was lined on all sides with all kinds of expensive things. As she started to explain the first grouping of things for sale, I realized that she was just being nice to a foreigner. There is just no way that she could possibly think I would ever consider buying a 400 dollar, traditional Japanese doll set. I obviously couldn't even read the boxes let alone have any understanding of their significance. Yet, she chatted away about Japanese culture, and I listened intently, frequently asking for clarification of some Japanese word I didn't quite grasp.

Here's the nice lady showing off an intricately detailed paddle from a game played a long time ago. I chided her a bit about this while she explained the game.
She started: "So you take this little feather thing with a weight on one end-".
"You mean, like badminton?", I interrupted.
"No. You see, two people will hold one of these paddles-"
"Yeah, with a net in the middle, right? I think I've played this game before..."
"No, no. There was no net..."
I'm sure she thought I'm just as hilarious as I do. The one she is holding is priced about 315 US dollars.

Here is a multi-tiered Hina doll set(they get much larger) for sale. They are apparently displayed in people's homes on Hinamatsuri, or Girl's Day. The two at the top represent the emperor and empress, the next represent the imperial retainers, and the price represents about four months rent.

I didn't fully grasp the next explanation, but I took a couple of pictures of the signs that were about in case I was bored and needed something to translate later. I think the pretty badminton paddles are given to parents when a girl is born, and the ornate war-implements when a boy is born. Here's a couple shots of both groups.

These were especially cool. Little swords, arrows, and samurai helmets were set up in the glass cases.

This one was complete with little bows.

I thought that this little set up looked pretty dramatic. Perhaps a depiction of an old story or something.

I resisted the urge to play G.I. Joes feudal Japanese style.

Back in on the ground level after the tour of the expensive museum, I was pretty much bound by my moral code to buy something. I found a nice little something that might just be one of your Christmas presents.

Cats. In a sailboat.

We said our goodbyes and continued on our original quest, to check out the temple. While the approach leading up to the torii gate was really nice, the inside was like most temples I've seen. Meh.

I really like the contrast of the traditional Japan with the modern one.

Futaarayama Shrine at night. The lighting was sure nice, but not much to see on the inside. Maybe because it was dark.

Closer shot of the entrance.

Utsunomiya's famous food is the gyoza, called potstickers where I come from. We had a few of the little pork and veggie-filled dumplings on our way out of town. Yum.

Gyoza-man, Gyoza-man, does whatever a Gyoza can.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Maybe you have already been there but if not, you should check out Nikko. It is a great place to visit but not on weekends or holidays.

  3. I was lucky enough to go to Nikko with my parents a couple weeks ago. It was so cool that I posted three times just on the one day:

    Are you located in Japan by chance?

  4. I live in Los Angeles. My wife is Japanese from Otawara, Tochigi so we visit often.

  5. I've just started reading (thanks to your comment on my blog) and I think you write quite well. I love the caption on "Gyoza man". It was laugh-out-loud funny!