Saturday, March 26, 2005

Lost in Translation

The Kyoto train station was, as always, huge and remarkably efficient. The signboard posted outside the central gate had a neighborhood map which showed the Tourist Information Center location just across the street. I hadn't been to Kyoto for a while, so we crossed over to the TIC.

Or over to where the TIC was supposed to be, as it turned out. The building's exterior didn't show any signs of a tourist information center, and neither did the ground floor. Finally we asked one of the shop ladies which floor it was on.

She pulled a printed sheet of paper off a stack and highlighted a spot inside Isetan, explaining that the tourist information center moved back across the street.

Amazing. When you're travelling in less developed countries, you're usually lucky to get someone who even knows there's a tourist center in the area. An efficient place might have storekeepers who can give you exact directions. But a printed map custom-made to show you the new location, stocked by ground-floor cigarette sellers... only in Japan.

The following day we took a bus to Yonago, a small industrial / rural city in Tottori Prefecture. Most of our friends didn't know where Yonago was, and none of them could understand why we'd want to go there, until we explained that we were visiting the host family John stayed with as an exchange student.

Turned out there was a bus directly from the Kobe Bay Sheraton to Yonago. What are the odds of that? John and I were the only passengers boarding at the Sheraton, but the bus driver still insisted we sit in our assigned seats, 12 and 13 (promptly bringing back memories of that gate attendant from Meet the Parents). We realized why when the bus filled up at Sannomiya.

On arriving in Yonago we promptly spent the next three days being toured all over and being fed all sorts of Japanese food. I ate everything from sweet bean paste jellies (taken with green tea) to umeboshi (pickled plums - been there, done that, never again!). The highlights of the trip were a visit to the seaside onsen and to Tottori Sakyu (sand dunes); watching fifty-something-year-old Okaa-san walking off down the steep sand dune was awesome.

John and Otoo-san were wondering how I managed in the onsen since I spoke extremely limited Japanese and Okaa-san spoke no English. Well, we managed - just like we managed the rest of the three days. Which meant half the time I gave Okaa-san a confused look until she said, "ah, wakaranai", smiled, and gave up. The other half of the time I got it (or most of it).

Getting there

I bought my tickets from zuji.com - cheap and efficient. Zuji adds a service fee on top of the airline fare, but since I was pressed for time and it was after hours, the convenience of booking directly online and having the tickets delivered a day or two later was better for me than coordinating with a travel agent via e-mail. I saved about S$600 by flying Malaysia Airlines instead of SQ.

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