Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Back home...

Well, kind of back home.

We really don't have a home, so San Antonio and the general area of the city of Chicago are the two places we consider home right now.

We got on the train in Tokyo at 5:09pm on Saturday.  We arrived in San Antonio at 9am Sunday morning, which was 11pm Sunday evening, Tokyo time. We traveled for 28 hours straight.

We had a five hour layover in Honolulu and used that time to retrieve the rest of our luggage from the ship and then had lunch with several of our friends from Laughtrack Theater.

We brought them treats from Japan.  It's Kit Kats with flavors that you can only buy in Japan right now.  Green tea flavored, Wasabi flavored and Soy Sauce flavored.

We here in Texas for a couple weeks until we go to Chicago for rehearsals.

We're going to capitalize on our time here to get some rest.

We are bushed.

The next few blog entries will feature some of the things about Japan that I didn't cover in previous entires.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Tokyo, Day 7...

Our last day in Japan.

Jeannie wanted to some shopping and I wanted to see some historical stuff, so we decided to have some alone time to do our own thing for a few hours.

I visited a garden near the hotel.

It was very serene and pretty.

Then, I walked over to the Meiji Shrine.

While I was there, I watched a very interesting ceremony. A woman in traditional attire bent over at the waist in a ritual bow. She held that position, unflinching for seven minutes.

When she was finished, she straightened up her back and winced. It appeared that it hurt just as much as I imagined it would.

Outside the shrine a procession appeared.

It was a wedding ceremony.

The couple were dressed in full Edo style clothing.

The wedding took place in one of the open rooms of the shrine. I could have stayed and watched, but it didn't feel appropriate so I left to go back to the Shinjuku area to meet up with Jeannie.

She excitedly showed me her new purchase.

It's a ring in the shape of a sheep.

She's very, very proud of it.

We then walked down the street to the Park Hyatt Hotel and took 2 elevators to get to the 55th floor.

It was there that we saw Bob Harris' favorite place to get a drink, The New York Bar.

It's the bar and hotel from one of my all time favorite movies, Lost in Translation.

We asked if Sosolito was playing that night, but unfortunately they had the night off.

We then walked back to our hotel and grabbed our bags. It was sad leaving our hotel. We really loved staying there.

It's an amazing place.

We then booked our return trip on the Narita Express Train and were whisked back to the airport.

We're now sitting at our terminal, waiting for our flight to leave. We'll fly 8 hours to Honolulu, have a 6 hour layover and then fly 8 hours to Texas.

We're leaving at 9pm on Saturday in Tokyo and arriving at 9:30am in Honolulu. We're traveling back in time!

It'll be nice to get back to America, but I'm sad to go. It was the best vacation I've ever been on.

-- Post From My iPhone

Friday, August 27, 2010

Tokyo, Day 6...

Since we weren't able to go to the spa in Hankone, I promised Jeannie that we would find an equivalent spa for her int Tokyo.  I researched it Thursday night and found one that I thought she would be pleased with.

It was in Odaiba, a man made island on the east side of Tokyo.  Odaiba was one of the places I wanted to visit so I could see the architecture so it was great that we could do both things at once.

Another cool thing is that they train we took to get to Odaiba crossed the river on the Rainbow bridge.  It was very cool and surreal.  As we rounded the corner and drove onto the bridge all the Japanese children purred with excitement.  "Woooooooooooooo," they all gasped.  It was cute.

That's the Fuji Television building.  The ball on the top weighs one thousand tons.

We arrived to the spa and Jeannie was very excited.  It was decorated Edo style.  

Our excitement was tempered a bit when we discovered this wasn't just a spa.  It was an Onsen.

Onsen's are communal baths.

"What do you want to do," Jeannie asked.

I knew she was going to be disappointed if we had screwed up another chance for her to go to a Japanese spa, so I shrugged my shoulders and said, "Let's just go in and we'll see what it's like."

Your first step at the Onsen was to select a yukata for you to wear around the Onsen.  The yukata is a traditional robe that you would wear around the public areas in the Onsen.  At the Ooedo Onsen Monogatari, they had several different designs to choose from.

You then go to your prospective dressing room and disrobe to your underwear.  You put on your yukata and wrap the belt around your waist twice.  

From there, you exit into the main public area of the Onsen.  

This Onsen was very lavishly decorated and was designed to look like an old Edo time village.

We walked around for awhile and went to the only bath area that is open to men and women together, the foot bath.  It was a beautiful, but crazy foot bath.  It was 25 feet long and was designed as the "‘Fifty-three Stages of the Takaido"  It's modeled after the Edo-Kyoto highway from the Edo period of Japan.  

Which means, the bath is warm and full of rocks.  The rocks are placed in and order to stimulate and massage the soles of your feet.  Most of the rocks though weren't terribly relaxing.  They just hurt.  I thought I must be a giant wussy if it hurt so much, but everyone who went in and walked the path groaned and squealed and laughed.

At the end of the bath you could go on to the "Dr. Fish" section of the bath.  That's where you place your feet in a little pond and hundreds of tiny fish swim eat away the dead skin and callouses.  

I did not visit Dr. Fish.

While Jeannie got a massage, I decided to bite the bullet and go into the bath.  When else was I going to get the experience of soaking in a real live Japanese hot spring.  

The bath's were separated for men and women.  I went into the men's locker room and was handed two towels.  One small.  One big.  I disrobed and entered the bath area with only my single small towel which was just a little larger than a wash cloth.  I would have preferred the larger one, but you're only allowed to take in the small one.  

I read the instructions on what to do exactly stop by step so I followed the rules precisely as they were written.  I stepped up to a square wooden basin and used a rounded flat wooden bowl to scoop water all over myself.  I then entered the washing area and sat on a stool and thoroughly washed my hair and soaped down my body.  The washing area had soaps and shampoos and there was a shower head in each tiny stall.

I then rinsed myself thoroughly.  I was now allowed to go into the baths.  

They had several different types of baths there with varying degrees of temperature.  Each one provided some sort of therapeutic comfort.  They even had an outdoor area with two levels of baths.

Since cameras and phones weren't allowed in the baths (Thank God!), here are the photos from the Onsen's website of what the baths look like.

Since Jeannie's massage was an hour, I stayed in the baths for a healthy amount of time.

It took some time to get over the nakedness and the fact that there's a large amount of nakedness around me, but I pushed aside being self conscious and allowed myself to relax in the hot springs.  

Besides, it's not that different than being back in the locker room in high school after gym class.  It's just that here, everyone decided to linger.  

I remember there was always some guy in every gym class who stripped down immediately, walked around talking to everyone at their lockers, took a long lingering shower, toweled off in the center of the room than sat around naked on the benches talking and lounging about, enjoying his nakedness.  We'd say, "Hey Rex, aren't you going to get dressed and go to your next class?" and he'd laugh and stretch and contemplate taking another shower.

We all were Rex in that Onsen.  We just lounged around in the water, relaxing and enjoying our nakedness.  

When I was finished with the baths I walked back to the washing area and again shampooed my hair and thoroughly washed my body.  I walked back to the locker room, but stopped just outside the doors.  I used my small towel to try off as much water as I could.  By this time, the towel is so wet that it can really only be served as a way to squeegee the water off of me.  

When I was adequately dried off, I could now go into the locker room.  I went to my locker and was finally able to use my large towel.  I finished drying off, put on my underwear and robe, slapped on some gel into my hair that they had provided and walked back into the public area of the Onsen.

I walked around the Onsen for awhile, fully relaxed and refreshed.  When Jeannie was finished with her massage and her trip to the bath we sat down and ate some sushi and talked about our experiences in the baths.  

We then got dressed and went back to our hotel and got ready for the evening.

At 4:00, a lovely woman named Donna picked us up at the hotel and drove us to her apartment.  She was from Australia and had an awesome, lilting accent.  She was very charming and I really loved listening to her talk.  Turns out, she's a voice-over artist in Japan as well as an actress, singer and improvisor.  

Which, is why she was picking us up in her car and taking us to her house.  She was part of the cast that we were going to be improvising with.

Last May when Jeannie and I bought our tickets to come to Tokyo, I wrote an e-mail to the director of the Tokyo Comedy Store and asked if they had any improv shows that we could come to watch while we were in town.  He wrote back and invited us to sit in on their Friday night show.  We immediately accepted.

Unfortunately, Chris, the director of the Tokyo Comedy Store was out of town during our visit, but he put us in the wonderfully capable hands of Donna.  

Donna drove us to her fantastic apartment and we met up with one of the other members of the cast that we would be performing with.  We chatted and talked and laughed and they told us about their lives living in Japan.  Donna had lived there in Japan for over fourteen or fifteen years.  Her husband had lived there for twenty-nine years.  Adam, her castmate, had lived there for five years.

We were surprised to find out that Adam and Donna both said they spoke very little Japanese.  We would hear them speak it throughout the night to people, but they insisted they only knew the very little amount that they needed to know to communicate to get around.  

We did a quick rehearsal and they explained how they operated their shows.  I told them to push us around and shove us where they wanted us to go and we'd adapt to their style and form.  We've done hundreds of different types of improv shows and we just wanted to join in on what they normally do, not  get them to do whatever it is that we do.

After the rehearsal we went out to dinner at a great Thai restaurant.  Donna took charge of ordering and selected eight or nine dishes for all of us to share.  There were only four of us at the table so I was surprised at how much she was ordering.  "Don't worry," she assured me.  "This is Japan, the portions are small."

She was right.  The portions were small and she'd ordered just the right amount for everyone.  Looking back though, it's not that the portions in Japan are small, it's that the portions in America are ridiculously too large.

Every restaurant we've eaten in, the portions have been smaller than I'm used to, but I really haven't noticed that much because I've been satisfied and full.  I have to remember that when I get back to America.  

After dinner we walked over to the Crocodile Club, where our shows would be taking place.  It was there that we met Bob, our final castmate.  Here's a photo with Bob, Jeannie and some random Japanese guy who we had just met on the street.

I have a photo of Jeannie and Donna, but it's on Jeannie's camera.  I will add it soon.  In the meantime, here's a photo of Adam.  Earlier that day he had stepped on his iphone.

We did our show and it killed.  

Like the portion size of the food in Japan, the comedy show was divided up into several different small portions.  

FIrst, a jazz band played.
Second, we improvised by doing Freeze Tag and then their version of the Harold.
Third, the jazz band played another short set.
Fourth, 4 stand up Comedians did tight 5 stand up sets.
Fifth, the jazz band returned for a their final set.
Sixth, we closed the show with an improvised musical.

Our first improv set went well.  It was funny and we had a great time.  I've never started a show with freeze tag, but it went really well.  

The stand up's were really funny.  My and Jeannie's favorite was Ken Suzuki.  He's a business man by day who tests out pacemakers before they are shipped out to hospitals.  At night he tests out his stand up act at comedy clubs whenever he can.  

"Do you do both Japanese and English stand up then," I asked him.

"Oh no," he answered.  "I'm not funny in Japanese."

He was great.  He was really funny.

The second stand up was good too, but I'm mostly including him because he was wearing the weird toe shoes that Rance Rizzutto likes to wear.

I wonder if Rance has ever worn those shoes with a suit.

We did our second improv set and it was really fantastic.  I have to say, I'm not a strong improv singer.  I have trouble rhyming and sometimes lose the rhythm of the beat.  But I shut that out of my mind and channeled the lessons I learned from my visit to the Onsen.  If I can push aside my uncomfortableness and sit in a bath with sixty naked Japanese men, I can shove away my uncomfortableness about singing a silly little song.

The musical went great and it really brought the house down.  Jeannie and I did a scene where we were girl scouts on our way to the Girl Scout Jamboree and it was a lot of fun.  Jeannie's always a great singer so she did super great in the show.  Donna, Adam and Bob were really funny and it was so comfortable to perform with them.

What a wonderful artform we do where we can meet someone from halfway around the world and say, "Let's do a show!" And then,  by practicing the art of "Yes and...", you can develop a group mind and put on a stupendous show that entertains a packed house of people in Shibya, Tokyo!

After the show we stuck around for a little while and talked to the other performers and met a lot of the audience members.  They had introduced Jeannie as special visitors from Chicago so a lot of people wanted to come up and talk about improv and ask us if we were enjoying our visit to Japan.

After saying goodbye to Adam and Bob and our fantastic host Donna, we walked down to the famous Shibya intersection.

It's considered the busiest intersection in the world and is the crossing area that's featured several times in Lost In Translation.

We wandered around Shibuya for awhile and enjoyed the buildings and lights.  It was 1am and the place was busier than any street I've ever seen.  
For those of you who live in Chicago, think about what Clark Street looks like at 2am when the bars close.  Now multiply that by a thousand.  Now throw in wild hair, girls dressed in pajama's and high heels, boys dressed like Duran Duran, girls dressed in underwear and garter belts and fishnets, businessmen dressed in the standard black suit and white dress shirt, girls dressed in Sailor Moon school girl outfits with super short skirts because they actually do wear Sailor Moon school girl uniforms to school and toss in five or six Americans and you have Shibuya at night.  

When we were finished we took the crowded train back to Shinjuku and relished in our fantastic day.  

I'm so happy I do improv.  

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tokyo, Days 4 and 5...

Yesterday Jeannie and traveled out of the city and went to Yokusuka. 

It's a small Japanese town where the US Navy base is located.  Jeannie's dad was in the Navy and Jeannie spent her freshman year and sophomore years of high school here.

Since she was very young when she was here, as you might guess, her favorite places and memories revolved around the two malls in town.

We walked around and Jeannie enjoyed reliving some of her old memories.  It's been 12 years since she's been back here so some of her memories of locations were a little fuzzy.  Luckily, we met Naomi.  

We thought she was a Navy brat, but she surprised us and told us she was born and raised in Japan.  She spoke absolutely perfect English.  No accent whatsoever. 

She's learning hula and was excited when we told her we'd spent the last two years working in Hawaii.

After Yokusuka, we went to Kamakura.  

We got there a little late, but we breezed through the shopping districts and visited some temples and shrines.  

We enjoyed a nice twilight walk through the center walkway in town.

Today, we got up early and headed to Hakone.  Hakone is known for it's hot springs and there was a particular one we were headed to..., but...we never made it.

Hakone is Japan's version of The Road to Hana.  The journey is the destination.

It's difficult to get there and you have to take several modes of transportation to get to the heart of the town.

We started off in Shinjuku by buying a ticket for the Shinkansen.  

AKA, the Bullet Train.

This is a 3000 Version, so it's not a high powered bullet, but it's a bullet just the same.

That ride lasted 90 minutes and dropped us off in Odawara.  

In Odawara we walked up the road to the Soshu Odawara Castle.

It was cool.

We bought tickets and toured through all the levels of the castle.

When we got back down to the bottom I stopped off to go the restroom.  When I got out Jeannie was hunched next to a shack, laughing and clapping her hands.  I walked up to her and she pointed at some pictures and said, "Will you please do it?"

"Nope," I replied.

Her face was to sad for me to continue to refuse so I relented.  Within moments, an old Japanese man whisked me into the shed.  Ten minutes later I emerged from the shack looking like this...

Jeannie followed closely behind looking like this...

Several Japanese people waved and smiled and bowed to us as they watched us pose for photos.  

After we were finished, many of them walked over to the shack and the old man dressed them up as well.  

We walked back to the train station and caught our second train, a mountain train called the Hakon Tazone Train.  

It zig-zagged and turned and twisted all the way up the mountain.

We got off at one of the stops and visited the Hakone Open Air Museum.  It's an amazing museum that's situated right smack dap in the hills and footholds of one of the mountains.  My sister Jeni recently returned from a trip to Japan and had sent Jeannie and I some of her yen.  We used her money for our entry tickets, which is fitting because Jeni's an art teacher. 

We walked through the open air museum and I have to say I don't know that I've ever enjoyed a museum more.  

It was spectacular.

The art was great, but the setting was phenomenal.  Seeing these pieces with the backdrop of the the rolling hills was breathtaking.  

They had a Picasso exhibit there and it was the only artwork under a roof.  

Everything else was outside.

The had a hot springs foot bath and we stopped there for a few minutes to see what it felt like.  After it was over, we both felt like we were walking on new feet.  It was rejuvenating.

We had a bounce in our step as we continued through the museum.  

We finished walking through the museum and headed back to catch the Tazone mountain train.  At the Gora stop, we transferred to another mode of transportation.

A cable car.  

It took us higher up the mountain.

When we reached the top, we transferred to the Gondola Ropeway.

It climbed up over the top of the mountain, across the valley and over several hills and mountains.  

As we floated high in the air we saw Mt. Fuji.  It didn't show up in pictures because of the clouds and haze, but it was awesome seeing it.

The Ropeway eventually brought us to the bottom of a mountain and at the shores of Lake Ashi.  There was a ship there that we were supposed to take that would lead us to a bus that would drive us to the hot springs...But it was too late.  Taking the ship and the bus would cause us to miss the train back to Shinjuku.

We decided to reverse our trip and go back through all of our crazy modes of transportation.  We were disappointed we weren't going to the hot springs, but we'd had an amazing time getting there and it was worth it all.  

On our return trip we booked the 5000 bullet train.

Oh, it was awesome.  Faster, sleeker, smoother and impossibly lush.

They even had seat service.  We bought bento boxes and ate dinner on the train.

Jeannie opted for the traditional bento box.

I got the bento box that was in the shape of the train.

It was delicious.

We pulled into Shinjuku, tired from a long day of traveling.  

Jeannie was still a little disappointed that we'd missed the hot spring spa so I relented and went with her to somewhere that's she's been begging me to take her...

The private Karaoke booth.

As soon as the machine turned on, all of her disappointment went away.  She sang her heart out for the rest of the night.