Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Tennō Heika, Biome Banzai

Rising Son
  G   reetings from the land of the Rising Son.

I've blogged about my trip extensively here, but I haven't really written anything about where it is that I am dwelling and puttering.

What is this Nara place like, and how is The Biome getting along?

I've shown you movies and pictures, but I haven't described what it is like to step out of my hotel on a typical day in August.

First of all, the temperature hits you. In the hotel, it's a very comfortable 70°F/21°C. When you step into the sun-drenched street, the temperature suddenly jumps to 98.6° / 37°C—coincidentally, human body temperature.

But that is only the temperature of the air. In the full force of the sun's rays the temperature must jump to something approaching 113°F/45°C.
Sunset from hotel window, courtesy Tai-chan

It's stupendously, staggeringly, unbearably hot. All your body wants to do is to get the hell out of there.

I would honestly say that of the hundreds of people streaming down the street at 11 a.m., fully 5% are carrying umbrellas. (All of them are women, strangely.)

Some women even have long black sleeve hoses made of what looks like thick wool; why they insist on black is a puzzle wrapped in an enigma. That however, is not wrapped in a conundrum; it's obvious that they took a clue from the Arab burqa.

And the streams: the street my hotel is on leads directly from the Japan Railway (JR) station to the park and all the temples and deer. Along the street are dozens. if not hundreds of shops. Convenience stores (Lawson, 7-11), "drug" stores, which roughly correspond to our super-drug marts, minus most of the drugs (these are usually dispensed directly from the hospital under strict supervision, if I recall my aberrant drug usage correctly), small specialty stores, even gambling dens (ostensibly lottery, but probably more).

And among these are dozens of un-describable places, there are some so old-looking that you expect samurais to jump out with swords drawn. Their doors are always closed, it seems, so indeed, there might be samurais hiding within. Nara is impossibly old; one of those cities that goes way back past the Dark Ages and into the era of Rome and true antiquity.

A typical side street in downtown Nara
And the people: well, fully 10% are foreigners, sometimes travelling in gaggles of 20 or more. They all regrettably look just  your stereotypical image of a Western traveller: sunglasses, baggy shorts, backpacks, scraggly beards (men only, thankfully) and I swear that on the first day I came there were two women in full hijabs (head scarves) but in their defense, they looked like they may have come from the Malayan Peninsula. Still, wearing religious garb in Japan is frowned upon, if not met with outright suspicion.

And streaming they are. Lately Tai-chan and I have noticed that quite a number of the Japanese are wearing traitional kimonos—men wear them too, but in dark, unadorned shades of purple or grey. And some of them wear those uncomfortable traditional wooden platform shoes, the geta.

Mike and Kathy (just kidding)
I asked around and it seems that they;re going up to one of the temples to light candles for good luck—it's the Obon season.

I remember that when I lived in Bentenchō, around this time of year there would always be some kind of matsuri, or street festival, with all the traditional stalls and games and foods of yore.

Perhaps that is going on somewhere deep in the bowels of Nara Park, to which I have not yet ventured (yep, been here fifty times and never gone to that famous park. I'm definitely not a tourist.)

So that's roughly what it's like on a typical day here in Docteur Neeque-land. I'm fairly well known by the denizens in the shops I frequent so we all have our various funs and games as I pervasively shatter the myth of the Western schlub, gawking at everything and carrying 100-yen-shop Rising Sun folding fans—awkwardly. My Japanese friends are grateful for the respite of trying to stammer their few known words of English; they treasure being able to talk to a gaijin on their own terms.

And the Biome? Fuck the Biome! I've been recklessly subsisting mainly on cakes and tea and cafe lattes, with a pasta or pizza chaser.

That regrettable repast, Oden
There are no, repeat no, Japanese-style restaurants around here; at least, none that serve recognisably Japanese food. It's all that strange proto-Western fare; deep-fried chicken (kara-age), noodles of many kinds, odd vegetables (oden) and curry-rice (kare raisu) which resembles more a sticky white mountain topped with curry-powder-and-turmeric-drenched perfect rectangles of mystery meat.

These are not all, mind you; there are coffee shops and dessert shops where the only thing on the menu is various sorbets and sundaes (and coffee, of course) but my only vice is the cake shop, to which I Buddhistly go every morning, as they tend to run out of my varieties by the afternoon.

And my Biome is . . . unhappy. I've had a persistent abdominal pain since I've been in Japan. Sometimes it gets pretty bad, but I can't pin it down to any cause—it isn't "triggered" by things I eat or drink. It just seems to come and go as it pleases. I call it "Nara Stitch", as it resembles that pain you get (used to get!) when you ran far with little conditioning.

Never mind; Japan is what it's always been, and the Biome is indifferent. I brought a testing kit along with me but Tai-chan is reluctant to do the test, probably from the Ick Factor, although there really isn't one.

But I shall take the test and see what this strange diet of cake, tea, coffee and white flours (all delicious!) has done to my microbial trillions.

Helllooooo Prevotella! Goodbye Firmicutes.

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