The Adventures of Gimpy Girl

A journal of the trials and triumphs of another trip to unexplored territory.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005


Well I did it. I caught the plane with 3 hours to spare. I wasn't taking any chances today. It wasn't bad though. Kansai Airport has wireless internet and plenty of shops to keep me busy. My new moto in travel is to be at the airort with at least 3 hours to spare. Airports are kinda cool anyways. I didn't drag Donald along for the trip this time though. I strapped everything on my scooter (including my extra bag!) and chugged along okay. Anything's possible with enough bungies and tape!

Good-Bye Donald!

All I can think about now is when I will be back again! I will miss you Japan!

Keep your eyes peeled for my next adventure to the far east: China!!

Ja mate ne!

Monday, March 28, 2005

too late!

Yesterday I learned a valuable lesson about travel. Always leave twice as much time to get where I am going as I think I might need. When I started out for the airport four hours before my flight I thought that would be enough time. But I should know that when I get to the station I can't just hop on the next train. I have to wait until they come out with the ramp. When I got to Kyoto station I attempted to get a pass that would cost about a third of the price to get to the airport, but after I was told to go to different ticket offices repeatedly (Kyoto station has about a zillion JR ticket offices) and wait in lines, we stood in the last line and watched as the clock ticked by until it was evident that we weren't going to catch the train we wanted. Once we were on the platform the attendents could not help us and Donald ended up being handed a ramp to use himself. We felt really put off by this and I was especially concerned that a solo traveler would be screwed. But Donald dealt with it and we got on the train. When we got the ETA from the conductor I knew that only a miracle would get me on that plane. We got off the train pretty efficiently and made it to the terminal, but no swiftness was going to save us now. The United coordinator actually tried pretty hard to get me on the flight but with a scooter to deal with it just wasn't happening. She generously booked me on the same flight the next day without charging me anything extra. We headed back (I had no problem getting the elusive Kansai regional pass here) and phoned another friend who happpened to have just arrived in Kyoto and went to have okinokiyaki at this great restaurant down the street from Donald's house.

So one more meal and today an early start to the airport. Yesterday was my dress rehearsal. Today I do my solo performance!

Back in Kyoto

yummm... okinokiyaki!



A Chu Hai is good anywhere in good ol' Japan!

Monday, March 21, 2005

Access Denied

I was prepared to go to Tokyo, bags packed, rail pass in hand...

Everything seemed fine until I was at the gate prepared to board the shinkansen, Japan's infamous bullet train. They stopped me and Donald and the attendant went back and forth in Japanese until Donald turned to me and said "it ain't happenin'." Turns out my scooter is too big and heavy for them to deal with. So power wheelchair and scooter users can probably count the bullet train out when they come here. He went on to meet a friend and I wandered back into Kyoto. I stopped at an internet cafe and then went to check out a shogun's castle. I figured it was all over for travel but the next day Donald and I got on the case and by that afternoon had figured out an alternative plan.

access denied

Plan B has been rejected as well by the authorites of Japan Rail. They want to charge me an extra $85 or so for each leg of the journey and they aren't really willing to deal with the scooter. After Shoei, a friend who is from here, talked to them for a long time they determined the only way was to pack my scooter up like luggage and put it on the train. This seems like a long shot and hightly unlikely.

So I may put Shoei on the case again and see if she can get me a refund. This will be a small miracle.

I left the JR Station that day feeling pretty low. Donald continued on his plans to meet Shoei. We weren't prepared to include me and the scooter in this adventure so I headed back to the subway. I was determined not to let it ruin everything that day so laden with all my bags I laid plans on more exploration of Kyoto and eventually navigated to one of the famouse Shogun castles of Kyoto.





Saturday, March 19, 2005

subways, trains and Japanese ori

Last night Donald had a show in Osaka with two members of the Boredoms. I was excited to go to the city and experience my first show in Japan. Shows start early here and Donald needed to be there early to prepare. We left in a rush around 3pm. We started at the very familiar subway station near his place, caught the train downtown and did a very complicated transfer to the Hunkyo line with impressive efficiency, just catching the express train to Osaka. (This line had a really great solution to no elevator: a stair lift!) It never would have happened if Donald hadn't thoroughly checked out the elevators at this station ahead of time. But having caught that train we thought we would make it in time and maybe even have time to get a bite to eat. We arrived in Osaka at 4:35 and raced off to find the elevators in unexplored territory. We went back and forth, talked to station agents, went outside found elevators at the top of staircases, talked to maintenance staff, security agents of the building... nobody seemed to know how I would get to the subway. Eventually they caved in and four security agents carried my scooter in pieces down the stairs. But we still were far from where we needed to get on the subway. When we were finally on the subway it was after 6pm. We had more confusion and lengthy routes getting out of the station, we ran into Yamamoto on the street and walked to the club. I parked outside and climbed down into the most inaccessible club I could imagine, but we made it.

Stair lift in action

From the first act (Psychic Salary Man) to Donald's performance it was mesmerizingly bizarre entertainment. Donald amazed me by singing almost completely in Japanese, and if you are familiar with Donald's style you know he makes this up as he goes - ori style.

psychic salary man

Donald dazzling his audience

Rumi and Donald

Many of Donald's friends and classmates had come to the show, so afterwards we ate dinner there and headed to the train together. This time barriers be damned--I had a whole pack of friends to get me through anything we faced. We were in it together. So when there was no elevator to get us to the platform we needed brut force went into action and we quickly disassembled the scooter and took it down the steps.

Later we found out that the way to do it was to take the train two stops down and it would turn around. It was late so I still don't know if that would have worked. But we had fun on the ride. We got to witness late night drunken passages of our fellow riders. This inspired a long cross cultural discussion about puke.

Seth is trying out the cool ride

Donald fits right in on the subway

Friday, March 18, 2005


Friday Donald and I took a trip to Nara. Nara is easy to get to from Kyoto because you can take the train/subway from Kyoto. Nara is known for the influx of deer that have made this their permanent stomping ground. It is very amusing to watch as the locals try to feed them. It appeared the Japanese are rather wary of these seemingly docile creatures. The common practice is to buy these wafers for the deer, so if the deer spot these in your hand they won't be timid in their approach. The funnest part was watching people being chased by deer. I have to admit alot of these dear looked a little worse for wear, so I kind of wonder if these wafers are the best diet for them.



We wandered through the park discovering a classic Japanese castle on our journey.


Dibutsugi is the large temple in Nara that houses the Giant Buddha along with other prominent figures in the lineage. I was impressed by the labors made to make these ancient temples accessible.Nara.3.18.JPG


This is one big buddha!


Inside the temple is its own mini-me.

Going past the barricades!

I think he wants to race.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

a solo adventure

I made my first solo adventure yesterday. I ventured downtown while Donald was doing his studies. I made my way to the subway. Once at the toll booth I had the attendant's attention holding out maps and speaking english. It worked well. They made sure to have someone meet me at the train with a ramp to get on and one to get off. Next I needed to make a transfer to a different subway line.

Once I found the next subway line they tried to tell me that I couldn't bring my scooter on that line. There was some confusion and she told me I could do it just this one time. So I went down and she got on the train with me. When I got to the other side we met up with two other attendants. Next thing I knew we were sitting in front of an escalator. I got off the scooter and they took it up the escalator! When I got off they showed me a button to push when I came back that would alert them to come up and help me, although they would only be avaiable for the next 45 minutes so I knew I would have to find my way to the other station. They showed me how to get to the temple and I headed off.

The first temple I found was not the one I had set out for but had a beautiful garden and I took off my shoes and climbed inside. I listened to a woman sing and then took some pictures of the garden.



Eventually I found the buddhist temple that had inspired the journey, the Sanjūsangen-dō Temple. This is the kannon bodhisatva, the 1000 arm kannon. I snuck in right before closing. They cleaned off my wheels and allowed me in.


I left here and wandered through downtown Kyoto, past the river and pachinko halls. I found Kyoto to be surprisingly metropolaton. Eventually with some guidance I found the station and then the elevator. I got onto a very packed train, sharing the car with another wheelchair. When my stop came, an attendant was waiting with a ramp. I got off and found my way back to Donald's without a wrong turn.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

diner delights and dolls

Donald's friend Rumi came to visit yesterday and we went to lunch at a funny little curry diner. It reminded me of a kind of Japanese Waffle House (if you've been to the south you'll know what I mean).



Afterwards we walked to a doll gallery. There were some really cool dolls in there. Before we left we asked if we could take a picture and the gallery keeper excitedly pulled out some of the very valuable children's dolls I could pose with. Some really interesting dolls were in the back of gallery. I wish I could show you those but I was too shy to take my camera inside.


Later Rumi and I went to a shinto shrine, the Goryo shrine,that is right around the corner from Donald's apartment.
We had fun there.

These gates are a minurature replication of the original which consisted of hundreds according to Rumi).



Monday, March 14, 2005

White Day

In Japan there is a holiday called White Day, similar to Valentine's Day except the tradition is that men give presents to the women and on Feb. 14th the women give presents to the men. Donald and I went downtown to check out a popluar shrine. Upon arriving we couldn't resist going to McCafe and ordering a soy chai and caramel latte. Afterwards we walked down the outdoor/indoor market. It was covered from above while being on the street. We found a place with grilled and sashimi bluefish, which Donald declared as his favorite fish, which tended to shock locals since many of them found the taste too strong. We ate outside next to the multimedia vending machines (they play music and videos).


Our adventure finally led us to the shrine just after the sun had set. It took us a while to circumnavigate the stairs. Once we reached the top we did our prayers and got our fortunes.





Sunday, March 13, 2005

Japan in the snow!

Cold Days...

Saturday morning Donald and I set off for a cooking class. He lives near the subway so we were able to make it across town quickly. We learned something important about the subways by talking to the attendant (with Donald's translation). I had been doing an evil kneival maneuver getting on and off the trains to cross rhe 3 or 4 inch gap and similar height difference. I would get a running start and gun it...but if you go up to the front car the conductor will put out a little ramp. Not as much excitement but what the heck. So far all the stations have been well furnished with elevators, so we haven't had too much trouble getting around.

The cooking class was fun. They were very excited to have foreigners in the class and split Donald and I into different groups for cultural exchange. We made a sushi rice dish, clam soup and canola greens with mustard sauce. Afterwards everybody said something about themselves. Donald got up and told everybody about his upcoming show and passed out flyers. He told about his singing and the 'underground' music. (Underground was about the only word I picked out from what he was saying in Japanese.) They wanted him to sing but he had to explain that he doesn't really do solos in the tradional way. By the time we got home rain had turned to snow flurries.

Me trying to julienne eggs

Donald making more refined cuts

A completed meal

Yesterday we awoke to more bitter cold temperatures and little snow flakes. We decided to see the Rokoun-ji Temple or Golden Pavillion. We attempted to take the bus and after a discussion with the man at the information desk we were told that the bus we wanted was hours away. We waited a while by treating ourselves to mister donut but eventually decided to see how my scooter batteries would hold up. We made it there in about 30 minutes and did I mention in was cold? We got to see the temple as the snow fell down. It was very beautiful. For our trip back we thought we would try the bus again. We had noticed that many of them had a handicap symbol and large doors on the side so we suspected that the very rare buses we had been told to take were not the only option. We waited for about twenty minutes while freezing under some pretty serious snow and a bus finally arrived with the handicap sign. We rang the bell on the side but were ignored as the bus filled up. We still don't know if we were left because there wasn't room or because he couldn't accomodate the scooter.


At this point were really cold but started the treck back. When we saw a bath house we went for it. Luckily they provided everything we needed. What a wonderful feeling! There was a washing area, and hot tubs, picturesque outdoor hot and cold tubs, a sauna and something totally different: eletric water. It's a combination we've been told to fear and it is freaky enough that I did not spend much time in it even though it did give me an energy boost. Donald was next door experimenting with it but since I couldn't read japanese for all I knew it was a mistake. Next time maybe I'll be more daring.

We ended our adventure stoppping in a tiny ramen shop. The ramen was excellent, but without a translator it might have been tricky to order. I feel lucky to experience the places only locals go with my own personal translator.

Ja Mata Ne!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Watashi wa Wyndee des

10-9-8-7...Houston we have a problem. It was yesterday.. or two days ago when I got to the SFO airport two and a half hours ahead. Larry and I parked in the lot got the scooter put together and all the bags out when I realized I had left the most crucial thing of all behind... the scooter key! Panic started to rise but almost two hours later Dave, my hero, called. "I'm two minutes away... from the Oakland terminal" I guess he figured my heart wasn't racing quite enough. He was there a couple minutes later and I was soon dashing to customs. By the time I was sitting in my seat I was still rattled but I was on my way!

Eleven hours of inflight entertainment later and I was landing at KIX airport in Kansai/Osaka. I waited in my seat after landing as I usually do and a woman came up and told me a wheelchair was on its way and soon they met me with a aisle chair and took me off. On the way I got introduced to the special escalators that can lift wheelchairs. Very cool! I got service all the way, breezing through immigrations to baggage and help strapping all my bags onto my scooter. I had one extra bag and he carried it through the last few stops until I was greeted by Donald. We took got a train ticket and headed toward Kyoto. One thing I learned at the train station I wish I had figured out earlier is that there is a significant discount for disabled travelers but I brought no proof. Crutches and a scooter were not good enough evidence. So I could have saved a significant amount on my rail pass if I had just asked. Now I will try to get this documentation somehow to save a little money on the other train tickets I will want to buy.

We arrived in Kyoto, caught the subway and around 3am San Francisco time I took a shower and got ready to go out to dinner. We missed the first choice restaurant but the second choice was really good udon. We had a tasty dinner but I was falling asleep at the table, so we went back to Donalds, rolled out the futon and fell asleep.

Today, after checking out Donald's latest video project, we headed out. Our first stop was at a bakery where we bought a bunch of yummy pastries and went to see the Shimogawa jinja (shrine). We made wishes to our animal signs and washed our hands in the ceremonial waters. We finally got to eat our pastries outside of the temple by a creek. It started dripping on us so we headed back, making it just before the serious rain.


An important sign to learn:


Sionara for now!