Mother and Child

What you see here is a peaceful scene of a baby macaque (Japan’s native monkey species) clinging desperately to its mother’s back. What you don’t see are the hundreds of other monkeys descending from what I refer to as “Monkey-poo Hills”, as they do every winter, to frolic in the hot springs (onsen). This was taken in Nagano in February.

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My Magical Japanese GRE Journey

For those of you who are unfamiliar, the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) is a lovely 4-hour test necessary for entrance into many graduate programs in America. These include most of the veterinary schools. It’s also responsible for the strange butt-bruise I’ve been sporting for three days that is making it impossible for me to flex my glutes.

(Which I’m now realizing I must do quite often.)

Despite our complete lack of desires to return to the U.S for graduate school, a friend and I forfeited $200 each and signed up for the test. Why? Well because nothing brings me more joy than spending a third of my rent on a voluntary test. Plus you never know when you may need the score. I’m not sure how much the test costs in America, but I feel like we may be victims of extortion. Maybe.

Truthfully, I’m pretty lucky that the test is offered in Japan at all. Granted, it was only held in two cities remotely near mine– Osaka and Tokyo. Both are about 1-3 hours away depending on the method of transportation. We chose to take the cheapest option, a bus,  down to Osaka.

And, that is where our story begins:

Oops, wait. Before I begin, I should include that my friend actually cancelled her test a week prior due to being accepted to her dream school in Iceland. After witnessing my utterly tragic dismay at the thought of having to take the test alone, she reassured me of her commitment to the trip in order to fulfil my seemingly undying need for emotional support in every area of my life. Good friend.

Now, back to the story.

It was a dark and stormy night. Literally. I got no sleep the night before the test because the wind was so damn insane that the flimsy walls and balcony doors of my apartment were on the verge of being torn from my building. Or, that’s what it sounded like anyway. It was then I was convinced my apartment was trying to sabotage me. I knew it had been harboring a vendetta against me ever since I blew a fuse trying to microwave some gyoza during my one-man underwear dance party back in February.

Fortunately, I had to be up at 6 a.m. anyway because we aimed to be at our bus station in downtown Nagoya by 8. From there it would be a three-hour bus ride to Osaka. Armed with my umbrella, my bus ticket and my test confirmation, I went out into what I now call “Typhoon GREta.” Get it? I actually just made that up. Also, it wasn’t a typhoon. But it was raining heavily, and this is my anecdote; so, let me embellish some.

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This is actual footage from my  iPhone of Typoon Greta. Notice how the woman at the end is OVER it. What you can’t hear is me screaming in the background, “I LOVE TESTS! WHAT A BEAUTIFUL DAY FOR TRAVEL!” Or, something along those lines…

After filming my nature documentary, we decided to grab a quick bite before embarking on the next quest: finding the correct bus! Finishing our food, we readied our umbrellas and ran into the downpour, taunting Greta with our determination and laughter. Except our umbrellas almost immediately inverted in response to a huge gust which told us that Greta was not happy with our defiance. The hundred or so more intelligent Japanese people taking shelter under the awnings watched us in what I can only imagine was horrific interest. Two white people running through Japan like hysterical toddlers with upside-down umbrellas does not make for a pretty picture. And you can only imagine what our hair looked like. Not good. It’s safe to say that by this point, my friend was strongly regretting her decision to join me on my magical journey.

We continued on, my one hand carefully gripping my phone and a screen capture it guarded. The bus company supplies its customers with the following set of photos, which upon initial inspection, I presumed would help us locate the bus terminal easily.

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I presumed wrongly. The inclusion of big red and yellow circles certainly makes you think someone rather capable designed such a masterpiece; doesn’t it? I thought so until we arrived at our “destination”, only to realize it was a bus terminal for a different company.

Trying to explain to three very confused Japanese staff members in broken Japanese that you are lost in a typhoon is difficult. Trying to explain this by repeatedly pointing to a  soggy, deteriorating bus ticket that isn’t even for their bus, all while having the wind-guard of your expensive Samsonite umbrella repeatedly fail you is even more difficult.

We realized we were not going to receive a solution to our dilemma, and with only 15 minutes until departure, we had no choice but to quickly retrace our steps and locate the bus ourselves. Fortunately, we did not need to go far because, of course, it sat innocently only 5o meters in the direction we had come, but on the opposite side of the road.

We sprinted toward it, received approval from the driver to board, and welcomed the dryness that greeted us. We didn’t realize at first how wet our clothes actually were. It wasn’t until heat from below the seats mixed with our dampness that we began to feel the symptoms of a condition my friend aptly diagnosed as a bad case of “moist warmth”.

Enjoying a luxury bus when you look and feel like the sweat-drenched foreigners that no country actually enjoys hosting was made easier by the amenities that our bus offered. In fact, here is a photo of my friend enjoying one of them.

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Nothing says comfort like pretending you’re a baby in a stroller.

We both ended up falling asleep peacefully to the rain outside, but nothing could prepare us for what we would be met by in Osaka. As we woke from our princess-like slumbers –more Ariel (mermaid form), less Snow White– we witnessed the most beautiful blue skies and white puffy clouds probably ever to have been witnessed in human history. I vaguely remember seeing a single tear gently caress the side of my friend’s face. That’s not true.

But, we had arrived at the Promised Land, the Osaka bus stop.

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Isn’t it glorious?

Look at the sunshine. The flowers. The people who must be suffering so seriously from typhoon Greta induced PTSD that they can’t seem to close their umbrellas.

This bus stop was amazing. It had a cafe, a nature trail, a fishing pond, a children’s park, a fountain, and a 20-foot high wall of flowers that I had to resist climbing in my extreme glee. I won’t lie; I was nearly ready to cancel my test as well if it  meant I could spend an incredible day hanging out at this bus stop. Yet, I stuck to my plan.

After enjoying a much deserved lunch, my friend escorted me to the test taking center. After registering, the rather harsh GRE woman inside made it very clear my friend was NOT allowed to spend the four hours in the testing center waiting for me. As if my friend had any desire to do so. I was then ushered into the scariest room I have ever entered, and my friend made her way back to the bus stop for a day of fun. Just kidding, she went to a castle, but the bus stop would have been just as great; I’m sure.

After the test, we found a restaurant that offered a plethora of red wines and pasta dishes. A few glasses in and I was feeling real chatty with the waiter who struggled to understand me as I attempted to explain in Japanese that I had just completed a big test. I repeated myself about four times before my friend interjected with, “Nagoya ni sundeimasu.”, which translates to “We live in Nagoya.” He understood and forgave my tipsy Japanese ramblings. We settled the check, finishing what actually did end up being a pretty magical journey. Though, that may entirely be the wine’s doing.

 

 

 

 

 

Cosplayers in Harajuku

Dante from the “Devil May Cry” series and the traditional Lolita.

Picture taken in Tokyo with a camera that I “borrowed”. Just kidding. Or am I?

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Boats Crossing Togetsukyo Bridge

This photo is from a romantic weekend trip to Kyoto I took back in November. Then again, it’s not hard to feel the romance in this city. I could wander the streets alone and probably fall even more in love with myself than I already am.

After exploring a very famous temple in the main area, we took a 40-min subway to a different district, Arashiyama, which is famous for it rivers, bamboo groves, temples, but most importantly, its monkeys.  Because when you have monkeys, nothing else in life matters. This picture was taken while searching for what I now call “Monkey Mountain”.