Japan on a Friday: Monument hopping and wallet dropping

Myajima - one of the most Kodak'd moments in Japan.

I know when it's time to wind down a trip. I start making mistakes.

Today I left my wallet beside one of the computers at the hostel in Hiroshima. I was so pleased with myself at a) wringing the last possible bit of mileage out of my 7-day railpass by jumping on a train to Kyushu, Japan's most western province and home of the Ramen Stadium, and b) an assured arrival at the Khaosan Hostel by the rather early check in deadline of 8.30pm, and c) availing myself to a bowl of the famous Fukuoka ramen.

Then I discovered my goof, just as I was trying to buy some local looking goodies at Hakarta Station, aka Fukuoka - the farthest point you can reach by Shinkansen on the JR Rail Pass.

But I've learned that when the s**** hits the fan, you take things one step at a time. I got to the hostel. Explained my plight. First called the Hiroshima Hostel. Yes, they found my wallet, and by the way, since we have your wallet, you have our room key! Doh!

Next, I had to choose between staying in Fukuoka, and offering my memorized credit card details as payment, or leaving and returning immediately to Hiroshima - thankfully a 1.5 hour trip at 207 km/h or however fast these things go.

As I had no money, there was little point in staying a moment longer in Fukuoka if I had zero cash. I asked if I could have my card charged extra in exchange for cash, but the rules prohibited that.

Finally, and extremely graciously, Asako the receptionist loaned me 2000 yen out of her own purse.

"I guess if that happened to me it's what I would want," she said simply.

So as a result I was able to avail myself to a late nite ramen just now, and just down the road, at Ippudo.

And I guess right - this is the original branch of the recently-opened Ippudo in NYC. Except the ramen in NYC is about $11-15 a bowl, at this place is was under $10. All I can say is, if you eat food with visible put pork fat floating in anything, it's going to be outrageously tasty no matter how lousy a cook you are. I like the way they let you have a second helping of the noodles themselves for an extra 150 yen.

But wait! Rewind! I did visit Miyajima today, one of the most touristed spots in all of Japan. (See picture at top)

It's famous for its vermillion hued O-Tori gate, standing in the water like some exotic crane. At low tide you can walk out to it.

The entire site is packed with shrines and temples - and tourists. The path leads you through several alleys of commercialism before you get to the actual historic sites. This is a common theme in Japan - no wonder it's called Japan Inc.

I had a mirthful exchange over some rice paddles in the deserted Arts and Crafts Center. It houses a very high standard of crafts, at corresponding prices. However, I locked onto the cheapest thing in the store - a basic but attractively decorated, handmade rice paddle for just 315 yen - about $3.50 or so, making a perfectly economical gift. The ones beside it were more than double the price, with less decoration. I argued in non-existent Japanese that the more expensive ones could well have been made in China. So the cheap one was only cheap in price, not appearance. The gales of laughter that ensued was followed by a careful wrapping of each paddle like it was a $100 paddle. I pointed out that the wrapping made it look TAKAI {expensive} but the inside was in fact YASUI (cheap) and this drew more hysteria. Of the five women cracking up around me, only one actually worked in the store.

The Japanese, despite an outward mild mannered and controlled appearance, are full of fun and camaraderie if you just be yourself. Or perhaps, they're just laughing at this goofy 'gaijin' who looks like she should be able to speak the lingo ...

Tomorrow, wallet retrieving, then Himeji, then back to Tokyo.

More pictures soon, at http://www.galfromdownunder.com/japan

The dainty Ippudo gyoza (small, so women don't have to open them mouths too wide to eat them).


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