Thursday, 28 June 2012

Yukimi and Yu chan

On Monday I went over to Mae and Joe's leaving party. I dont know them well, but they are some of the only Japanese people I do know! Which is a shame that they are leaving, but in reality, they are going to a pretty cool place. Near to Mt. Fuji they are making an "all-English" village. With English being spoken and English signs and stuff. It will be
really interesing to see. Ayako also came, with her daughter Yukimi, who is just a sweetie. She must be about 7 now, and always looks after Mae's daugher Yu - always carting her around on her back and being silly. Yu is quite shy, so it's always nice when she comes out of her shell. They loved me taking photos of them!

Cupcakes with Josh

Josh and I headed over to Abel and Sineads house after lunch for a very important purpose. Josh's mummy had sent him a cupcake machine! It looked incredible, so after it arrived on Thursday, we knew we had to try it! We spent all day mixing up cake mix (real stuff, from America) and then chosing differnt frostings to decorate them!I found in the end, I liked the cream cheese frosting and the reeses pieces (yes, they have them too!) on top! Then Sinead and Katie came home, we chatted for a long time, and then with Heidi we headed to dinner. I must say, I haven't just hung out like that in....forever. And it just felt good.

Kasuga Taisha

After walking through the forest, I headed for a place in Nara Park that I assumed I hadn't been before. I got about 5 kilometers down the path before realising I had. It was about 5 years ago, when we visited Japan again after living there. And also where I learnt that the deer in Nara Park will bow to you (especially if offered a nice deer biscuit!) But eitherway, off on my walk I went, and slowly but surely, the path begins to be lined with hundreds of stone lanterns. Stone lanterns are one of my favourite things to photograph, and, as Josh put it...Kasuga is like Fushimi Inari with lanterns, not tori gates. I didnt actually go all the way up to the shrine, but instead wandered down the little paths, taking photos of all the different lanterns.I snapped pictures away for about 20 minutes, then, I realised the time, and I had to rush back and meet Carl and Josh for lunch!

Torii gates

On my walk, the entrance to the forest is seperated from the road by a big Tori gate. In actuality, its basically the entrance to the shrine several kilometers away, but is meant to mark the beginning of the path to the shrine. It was so pretty, and I love the red and black contrast on tori gates!

Walking alone in Nara park

I dont often go places by myself. In reality, I don't need to, because I am often going places to visit people. But Josh had a rehersal, and I was meeting Carl for lunch, so I ended up with about an hour and a half in Nara Park. Now that I know my way around, I enjoy it so much more. I decided to head into the forest area, as I hadn't been there before. And it is just so different than the rest of the park, which is all grass and paths. I wandered through the trees, and came across some old people taking a watercolours class, and I stopped and admired their pictures. I found a nice river and followed it for a while. I guess, in reality it was a stream. But it was still quite pretty. It ended up going into this lovely lake, which looked like it could have been in any English garden! I really enjoyed my walk, even if I wasn't petting deer along the way. It was just nice to have some time for me.

Giant fugu

I headed down to the pier with everyone. I havent been to the pier since about September. Now that I have done the touristy things, I don't really go into that part of town. But I have good memories of there. So I was pleasantly surprised to see a giant fugu! It was huge! I do love that everything in Shimonoseki, and also Yamaguchi is emblazened with the fugu, or pufferfish. I couldnt help but have my picture taken, hugging it!

Justin's Birthday in Shimonoseki

On Sunday, the Shimonoseki JETs and their friends got together to celebrate Justin's birthday. I think his birthday was actually on Tuesday, but his wife decided to hold it on the Sunday when a lot of people could come. Lonna and Julianne came and got me at the station, which was nice, and then we headed over to the restaurant. It was a very nice restaurant, with a lovely Italian chef and English speaking staff. I got the impression that the Shimonoseki crew go there a lot! So I was lucky enough to see a lot of fun people, Hakeem was there, and Sung Hee, and lots of other nice people. The Shimonoseki crew have a lot of Japanese friends too, which is always nice. Justin's wife Hanna made a lovely cake, and the chef made Tiramasu, so after some great food and yummy desert, we were well and truly stuffed! I spent some time talking with people, and eating lots of bread and fun food. Then sadly, I had to get home, and so left everyone as they were heading to the pier for some drinking fun. I always have such a great time in Shimonoseki. They are nice people, a little older than me, and seem to have nice evenings out. I will miss them all when they move home in the summer!

On the Shink again

It seems that I spend a lot of my time on the Shinkansen. To be honest, I have a bit of a love affair with it, and I get a bit spoiled. My weekend doesn't feel right if I'm not heading somewhere on it on a Friday night, or coming home late on a Sunday. I always am on it. And I love people's reactions to it. You can always tell first timers, or people that don't go very often, theyre always snapping a photo. And then theres the business people taking it every week. Ive travelled once in my suit, and I feel like I'm much more part of the crowd.


Because I was in town for a weekday, I decided to book myself into a tour at the JAXA Space Centre in Tsukuba. In the morning, I headed off on the Tsukuba express...which was nice and convenient from where I was staying. I got the train, the bus, and then got there fine. It was pretty awkward to start, because I was the only English speaker. So I had my own seperate tour, with a nice lady who tried really hard to speak English from the sheet she was given. I had signed up for the Human Space Experience part, but there wasn't really that much in it. Just a bit about bed rest studies, space food and a bit about fish in space. It was a shame really there wasn't much more, although the isolation chamber was really interesting. After that part, we headed to see JAXA's prize NASA space suit....which apparently cost them thousands and thousands of dollars. Theyoooohhhed and ahhhhed about it alot! Then I went into the main visitor centre area, where they have a lot satellities, and quite a cool mock up of their module at the ISS. It was cool to see how big it seemed on the inside! I wandered around taking pictures for a while, and then headed back into town to do a little shopping (sadly, I bought nothing though!) before heading home!

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

I made it! Tokyo Sky Tree!

My hotel which I stay at in Tokyo is within viewing distance of the new Sky Tree. It seems to be quite close really. Last time I was there, it wasn't open. Now, it was open (with advanced reservations). The first night, it was lit with white and blue lights, and then the second night it was all lit up in gold and purple light. I decided, it was now or never, and as much as I was tired, and my feet were killing me, I should go see it. After all, it didnt look so far away. After checking Google maps, which assured me that it was only 15 minutes away, I set off. Tokyo is a safe city, at least generally in the suburbs, but it still pretty dark. Thanks to Josh on the phone, I felt brave enough to trek across the city. However, Google maps totally lies, and it took me over an hour and a bit to get there. I didnt want to cross the dark park, so I walked around, along the bridge. I was extremely close, but I still couldnt get up to it!It was so shiny, and bright, but no matter where I went I couldnt get close. I found the mall underneath it, along with some stairs.n Finally, I made it up to the tower, perfect for this perfect photo.

Dinner in Harrods

I shopped all afternoon too. I did try and meet with Alain, but sadly he was sick, and I didnt quite make time to go to all the shrines and stuff I wanted to visit. Not that I minded shopping too much, espeically after I discovered H and M.... I do dislike eating out alone. I definitely find it a bit of a challenge, and I also despise quick convenience store dinners, unless it's ramen. It being Ginza and all, there arent really ramen shops on the corner, so I headed for the food court in Mitsukoshi. Departement Stores in Japan have amazing food you can get to take away. Instead, I spotted the Harrods Plantation Rooms was a little expensive, but not too bad. So I got the whole restaurant to myself, lovely real tea and...SHEPARDS PIE. The real deal. And it was amazing to sit in this fancy place, just me and my bags, and my food from home.

Laduree in Ginza

I spent my entire morning eating Starbucks, and shopping. I spent ages in Zara, Forever 21 and American Eagle. All stores from home that I miss like crazy. I feel much more stylish when I am wearing clothes from home. I met up with Hozumi, who is from Yamaguchi outside American Eagle, and we headed first over to Roppongi again, to have some real American burritos! And they were so great! I couldnt finish mine because it was so huge, but I got it with A and W, so it was the best! Then we went over to Ginza, to go to my favourite place, Laduree. Recently, the one in Fukuoka has dissapeared.So, I was getting pretty desperate for good macaroons. We went in, and went into the cafe. Instead of taking them out, we got to sitin the lovely cafe inside of Mitsukoshi departement store, overlooking the streets. It was so classy and lovely! We only had 3 macaroons each (and water!) Our three little macaroons looked a little sad on the fancy plate, but Oh well! We sat and chatted, and then headed our seperate ways - me on to more shopping!

Maman in Roppongi Hills

I wasn't really sure how to spend my day, so I headed over to Roppongi Hills, somewhere where I feel very at home, and also a bit un at ease due to all the foreigners there. I went to see the big Maman spider. Its basically this big modern art piece. There are a few all over the world, but the one in Roppongi has been there since I was last in Japan. Its pretty cool, and a definite meeting place for the area. Its pretty darn cool

Tokyo Tower

Because of my day working on Sunday, I wrangled Monday and Tuesday off, so I headed up for some solo time in Tokyo. Pretty strange way to spend alone time, I guess. But I went to see a doctor in Roppongi on Monday morning. I was lucky enough to a) have an English speaking doctor, and b) it be right next to Tokyo Tower. I havent been there in a while, so it was nice to be so close to my favourite place in Tokyo. Plus they have a Hello Kitty store inside the Tower which sells every Hello Kitty ketai charm ever made from all over the country...

Deer in Nara Park

On Friday, I finally got to go back up to Nara to see Josh again. I rushed home (sans bike) and thankfully made the bus this time. I was still in my suit, but had a lovely ride on the shink with all the other salary men. I was so excited to see Josh at the station, I practically ran up to him, I was so happy when he picked me up at the Shinkansen station in Osaka. I had forgotten how busy it was that late at night, so it was good that he could get me to his house. He had made me hamburger helper and then we sat and cuddled and watched a movie. Just a perfect Friday night. On Saturday, Josh had to go to a cultural festival practice, and so I headed into Nara Park. I love Nara Park, and I find it so....calming. I spent the entire walking around, and seeing the deer. The park was pretty empty. I headed over to the forest area, where I saw some of the babies, but there was also a new deer park open, where they keep the brand new babies in a reserve area. You pay a little money and get to go in and see them. Some of them were just a week old and so adorable. I think if I lived in Nara I would spend all my time in the park, because I love the deer and they are just so adorable and tame. I love these little kissing deer I spotted too!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Hydrangeas in Hagi

On Sunday, I had to work at the school festival. It was a strange mix of awkwardness, singing and the band playing, but thankfully Cynthia (the new private ALT) came to hang out with me. We hung out for a bit and watched some of my kids dance, and then looked at their art work. Then we headed into Hagi for some Udon. On the way to school, I had noticed these pretty hydrangeas. They grow in all sorts of different colours around this area which kinda of protects the trash pickup collection area and the electricity pylons. A pretty strange place for them to grow. But apparently they are the "symbol of rainy season", because they need so much rain. Because it was a sunny day, Cynthia and I stopped, and wandered around all the beautiful flowers. I think I liked the mix of colours the best. I often only see blue or purple ones in England, but I'd never seen the pink ones before. They were so pretty!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Oni Rock

Near the lighthouse, was one of those tourist maps, where they have drawings of the places you can go and see. More like cartoon drawings. One of them was translated as "Oni Rock" or Devils rock. It looked pretty big, and was on the way home, so we decided to give it ago. We almost drove by it, mainly because it was hidden behind a sea wall. The story goes that some demons came into the village to steal the alcohol, and then somehow, the villagers had to throw stones into the sea...hence...kinda Oni Rock. It was pretty big compared to me!

Fun in Tsunoshima

We had a great time in Tsunoshima. First, we stopped at the observation point and took photos of the lovely bridge. I had actually thought that the bridge was in southern Yamaguchi, so I was pleased to find out it was much closer than I had thought! We headed down to the island, drove around for a while, and ended up at the lighthouse. It was pretty nice, but farther down from the lighthouse, there was a really nice beach park. There were some strange sculptures, one of which looked like a whole bunch of strange silver poles sticking out of the ground at an angle. Needless to say, I had great fun climbing all over it, and thankfully, Tom joined me in my silliness. After, we headed down to the beach, where the sea was beautiful, and then around the beach to a random tori gate. We then walked around the park, which, for some reason, appeared quite British. We couldnt put our fingers on it, but somehow it was. And then we headed back to the lighthouse. You couldnt go up the lighthouse. It might have been because it was an actual working lighthouse, so the building next to it was quite high. Up we climbed, and looked through the viewfinders. It was a bit of a strange location, as they faced away from the sea, but it was still a pretty view of the island!

The bridge to Tsunoshima

I finally had one Saturday at home, and after lunch of McDonalds with Jamie and Tom, we decided that we needed to drive somewhere, and go on a road trip. We decided on this cool place they had once visited with an old ALT, this little island called Tsunoshima. Of course, we had no clue quite where it was, or what it was called, but we winged it, and eventually got to this HUGE, long beautiful bridge.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Venus Transit

So we have been having a couple of pretty cool weeks, Astonomically speaking, and one day when I worked at my visit school, I tried to go and take a photo of Venus transiting the Sun. No such luck. Thankfully, Wayne came and took me out for lunch, where we headed down to the beach, and thanks to his logical thinking, used my sunglasses as a solar filter. And boy, were the photos just great.

Lonely on the Shinkansen

Going back a bit, my shinkansen from Shin-Osaka was pretty late at night, and it was just going up to a random station where I was meeting Cori and Len for our trip to Ishikawa. It was already sitting at the station, and I had reserved a seat, but I did find out, the entire thing was unreserved. And completely empty. Not a single other person on it. It was pretty creepy. But fun too!

Kenrokoen Garden in the day

After discussing it, we decided we hadn't had enough of the garden. It would be an entirely different look in the daytime, but that was a good difference, so we headed over there before we all went home. I really liked my photos in the evening, but so many of them were blurry. I know that Len took a lot of photos of me, on random bridges and such, it was nice to have a second visit just to soak in the atmosphere. It was also nice to see how vivid the purple flowers along the banks were, even though it was daylight. Japan has very traditional gardens, and then ones like this, where I think that it would be great to have near my house, to come and sit outside with a lunchbox and have a nice chat with friends. I always thought gardens in Japan were overrated, but I have really come to appreciate grass and greenery here in Japan. I can see why so many people come to Kanazawa to see this garden!

A gold leaf tea house

One of the shops along the Higashi Chaya district was a gold leaf shop. 99% of all of the gold leaf in Japan is made in Ishikawa.So, we went into this little shop to see what they sold. They had gold-leaf lotion, glasses, jewellery and everything. And right at the back, there was this gold leaf house. An entire house made of gold leaf. It was so cool. And very pretty with the maple leaves in front of it!

Higashi Chaya

After being a little disapointed with the other tea district, we knew we had to be missing something, so we headed over towards the other tea district. On our way, we crossed a giant bridge. On the banks of the river below, was grass! Tons of rolling grass covering the bank. Thankfully, Len and Cori understood my need to see real grass again (as you never see it here!)So down we went, to play and frolic in the grass. And I did, like a kid - I slipped my shoes off and ran up and down the hills without a care in the world. It was great! After myfrolicking, we ran into this nice dog which was a black lab, and tied up outside a house. It was so unbelivably adorable. We spent a lot of time petting it and rubbing its tummy!Finally, we made it to Higashi Chaya, which was a lot bigger than the other tea district. It had beautiful houses on either side of the streets, stretching along for a while. It had cute little shops and museums too. We headed into one museum, which was about the history of tea, and the lent us a cool orange umbrella so we could take our photo outside!

In the colours

As we were leaving the museum, we came across two other outdoor exhibts. Once was some sort of giant wire cage that the kids were climbing all over. Of course, we had to try too! And the second was a big swirl made of different colours. I cant really describe it well, but there were big walls, like a maze, circling up to the centre. I loved the pink ones best of all!It was great fun to see the world thought different colours, and in the middle, you could spin around and see them all!

Playing underwater

That night, we had had a lot discussion about what to do with our Sunday, before all of us headed home. That part of Japan is actually quite hard to get to, and we felt like we had done a lot of things already in Kanazawa. We decided in the end to stay in town, and so we started Sunday at a very lesurely pace. We went and bought Cori and Len cameras, and then headed to the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Modern Art. We only paid the minimum fee to go, because there was only one exhibit we really wanted to see. Dont we look like we are underwater in all of these photos? But entirely dressed? Its all a big optical illusion, but one of the most fun I have seen. In the centre courtyard of the museum (which is shaped like a giant donut) there is, what appears to be a swimming pool. You have the ladders to get in, the edging, and from afar, it looks filled with water. Even if you look directly down, it looks filled with water. What it is, is about 2 feet down, there is plexiglass, and the pool is only filled with water for the top two feet. You can see people walking around inside the pool below you! We also went down underneath the pool, and it looks like you are inside the pool. The walls are the right colour, and its even a little curved. It was pretty darn awesome. We spent hours playing around, sitting on the floor and taking photos! Cori and I pretended to be sleeping, and Len tried to play dead, while cute Japanese kids laughed at us. It was the best fun!

Kenrokoen at night

After tasting some crepes, and fighting along the crowds, and having a little rest of our feet, which were killing us, we headed over to the famous Kenroku Koen (gardens).For the two day festival weekend they light up the garden, and allow people to go in at night. Apparenlty they do it also in the winter too. The garden was huge, and lovely, with a giant lake in the middle, and a nice combination of trees, grass, rivers and flowers. I especially liked these really cool purple flowers which lines the river beds. They were simply amazing, and lit up at night, it seemed like they were almost neon in colour. I didnt have a tripod, so my photos are a little shaky, but I like the blur.One of the biggest, I guess you might say, "attractions" is this stone lantern with split legs, sitting near a bridge by the lake. It is featured all over the city, on postcards, and everything.We had to line up to see it, which was pretty strange, but there were lots of people there lining up to see this lantern. We saw it, and took a long time taking photos, and then headed to an all-you-can-eat Italian Restaurant that Len and Cori like from home. They we headed back to the hostel for a well deserved rest!

Matsuri food

We watched the dancing for a while, and then headed into the big shopping mall. I was really surprised, Kanazawa seemed like such a small city. Easy to get around, no big huge high rides, and lots of history. But it also had a great shopping area, with a version of Shibuya 109, and a Harrods store and everything! Next to the shopping mall was matsuri food stalls, I grabbed a crepe....wish I had grabbed fried chicken instead!