Friday, 31 August 2012

360 cafe in Nagato

After Karaoke we made the trip back to Jamie's house, all packed in the car tightly! We all slept a long time, and then got up late in the morning on Sunday. We went to this really nice cafe called 360, and it's similar to one we have in Hagi. It serves really nice teas and coffees. I had the Thai green curry which was amazing too! It was nice to get to chat with some of the JETs that live out East. I probably wont get to see them very often, so it was nice to get to know them and spend some time with them! I especially like the photos of my besties, Brad, Cynthia and Sonja!

Nagato Karaoke!

On Saturday night, Cynthia and Sonja and I headed over to Nagato to go to this Jazz festival that was being held there. We met Jamie at the station, and then headed over with the other ALTs to the festival. We bought some beers and some pineapple soft cream and watched the jazz festival. To be honest, it wasn't very jazzy and was more rocky! We tried lots of different foods and got up when the YMCA came on. I think the Japanese people were quite shocked to see us all dancing! After that, we all headed to a nice dinner place, where the food was super super cheap - and I even got dessert! Then we headed upstairs to this cool karaoke room which was really big and super cheap! There was lots of singing, and we stayed very late because it was only 200yen an hour! I especially liked the disco ball and the cool lights but I wasnt so keen on the stage!

Red gates in Nagato

On Monday, we were going to try and head out and find the sunflowers which were really tall. However, I couldnt find the paperwork, and instead Cynthia picked out a cool shrine that she had heard about in Nagato. Well, more in Tsunoshima rather than Nagato. It was a super long drive, and we got kind of lost on our way, but we eventually made it! (After finding a a nice Japanese lady who gave the BEST directions with gestures) It looked like the red gates were rolling down the mountainside. I really enjoyed taking pictures down the inside of them because they look like a giant tunnel. At the end of the tunnel, there was a nice mountain that we climbed up to and watched the sunset. Well, Cynthia explored the inlet and the sea below the mountain, and Sonja and I watched the sunset! The drive home was super long, but on the way home, we dropped Sonja off and then Cynthia and I went and had a well deserved McDonalds!

Playing Captain

Once the music started up again, we realised that the boat was pretty empty, so we set about exploring the upper decks. I was really interested to find that up at the top, was a little room outside where they were driving the boat. It looked remarkably similar to the main Captains room, but this time, there was an old fashioned wheel, and a hat and jacket for people to wear so that they could take their photo with it. We weren't sure if it was actually someones jacket or not, but in the end decided that it must be purely for photo-taking purposes, given that, well....this is Japan after all! While Jake dressed up, I browsed all the memorabelia on the walls, and was excited to see a letter to the Michigan Steamboat from the Governer of Michigan,Jennifer Granholm! It was pretty crazy to think of those two places ever twinned, or knowing anything about the other, so I was quite impressed.
Once Jake was dressed up, we took a million photos, and then decided to branch out of the little office, and take some photos in the hat outside. It was so cool!Jake is as much a poser as me, and I really enjoyed pretending to be a captain and posing in the hat a lot. There was a photographer on the boat, and Jake posed in the hat for the lady. When we got off of the boat, he even bought the picture!

The Michigan Steamboat

I really do think that people underestimate boats, and how nice and calming they can be. I for one, really enjoyed myself on the trip around Lake Biwa, which is Japan's largest lake. We got on the boat with all these other people, who seemed to appear from nowhere, and tried to find ourselves a seat. We origionally were going to sit and watch the band play, but figured it might look akward if we upped and left right in the middle to explore. Instead, we settled for a nice spot in the shade on the middle deck. For a while, we just sat and both read our kindles. It was nice to just be out of the sun for a while! Then I went exploring, down to the bottom of the boat, and to check out the restaurants and such. The band, which was made up of Americans played some nice music and there were games for the kids too. On the top deck, in the sun, you could see the Japanese flag, so of course we had to take our photo.We also went into the bar area, which was very classyand old school. It was just such a nice atmosphere being on the boat, and the perfect thing to finish off my trip. Jake and I had a good chat about what he gets up to during his free summer holiday, and we talked more about the Why Not! trips (which is how I met him and Josh actually!) I think what I loved most was the view from the back of the boat, where the rotating wheel was best. The view was just terrific!

Waiting for the Steamboat

We had a pretty long wait for the steam boat to arrive, but we spent the time wandering around and going into an electronics store, and to the post office, and to the get some McDonalds too. Finally, we got out our tickets and lined up. I really liked the cute little souvenier tickets. When the boat finally arrived, we stood in the line and waited to ring the bell before we got on. We were greeted by a bunch of foreginers who were in charge of the entertainment on the boat. What was the most exciting, was the fact that the steam boat was called The Michigan! Just like home!

Pretty Flowers in Shiga

My final day of wandering around Kansai was me going to Shiga-Ken. Thankfully, this time I wouldnt be travelling alone. I met my friend Jake in Otsu. We bought our tickets for the steam boat, and as we were wandering around the area, we saw these pretty pink flowers. I didnt think they were famous or anything, until I saw postcards with them on!

Laduree - yummy yummy!

As much as my stop in Osaka was to get Josh's birthday present, I couldn't stop without getting a little something for me. I went to Laduree, and spent the last of my money buying a few of my favourite flavours and a few for Josh to try! No matter how sad, or lonely I am feeling, the best thing in the world is getting Laduree! I found out from Shelby that she and Mummy had gone out and bought a cat. A kitten to be more exact, and a super cute one at that! I was a little jealous, so I definitely needed to treat myself with these macaroons! After I helped Josh make a lovely dinner of spaghetti and garlic bread, Josh and I had a sample session. I got my favourites, salted caramel and rasberry, and I had bought a vanilla and chocolate one for Josh. He definitely loved them! And now he knows why I love them so much and go out of my way to get them!

It's a Snorlax!

My side trip in Osaka allowed me to stop off and get Josh's birthday present. Although it was super early, I knew I had to take the oppourtunity to get it while I was in the neigbourhood. The Pokemon Centre is like a mecca for everyone who has ever loved anything Japanese. I have been before, but never bought anything. I found it easily, thankfully, and it was crazy inside, full of kids and their parents, teenagers playing video games and all sorts. It was even more crazy because Pikachu was there! The kids go crazy for him! (me included!)I got Josh's present and got out of there. Josh came home, and I couldnt help but give him his present early. He loved it. Edit - he adored it! And the smile on his face was so worth it!

Osaka Station

My trip back was made a little more difficult because the train man in Gifu didnt know how to find Josh's train station, so instead I just bought a ticket to Osaka Station. I got off and headed to the main station to buy Josh's birthday present, and then when I came back, I had a really long wait for the direct train which heads to Josh's station. I much prefer going on the direct train, as it means less waiting around in the long run. I find Osaka station crazy, but a really nice kind of crazy. I am probably the only person who enjoys rush hour. Osaka has so many trains, that there are all sorts of different symbols on the ground, depending on what order the trains arrive. The first time I went, it was crazy, and I was confused, but now, I pretty much know my entire way around! I enjoyed taking photos of the rush when everyone gets off at the station, or when someone runs for the station, or how the train fills up, the longer that it sits there. I really enjoyed it. It was nice to do a bit of city photography for a change!

The view from Gifu Castle

As much as I was very hot and very sweaty, I knew I had to make it to the top of the castle to see the view. I knew Gifu was a big city, and it was amazing to see just how big from the top of the castle. It was open on all 4 sides, and nice a breezy. I could see the nice green mountains, the city, and all the surrounding area. It was so pretty!

Gifu Castle

Some people really hate going to see Japanese castles, as they are all pretty similar, all built on a mountain with a view, and all rebuilt within the past 50 years. I think only 3 or 4 in Japan are actually old. But I however love them, and this one reminded me a little of Iwakuni castle, being perched up on a hill, and accessible by cable car. Once you get off the cable car, you have to climb a windy, stony path for quite a while. Several groups of older Japanese people had come equiped with hiking gear it seemed, which other women were doing it in heels. It wasn't too hard work, but it was unbearbly hot. I cant begin to describe how hot it was and the sun was shining! I finally made it, and checked out the museum inside the castle, before climbing up the stairs (Japan is not disabled friendly!) to see the pretty view!

Gifu Park

I really couldnt decide if Gifu was worth a visit, being that it is so hard to get to. It is in the middle of the country, and just a bit...argh. But Sarah was up there with her boyfriend and said she enjoyed it and it was worth me going, so off I went. Somehow I caught the right bus, and ended up walking from the bus to Gifu Park (after forgetting a SD card, and finding a Lawson's convenience store that sold one!). It was really a lovely park, with lots of benches and people eating their lunch, as well as a river, a waterfall and a nice fountain. I got a great view of it too when I headed up in the cable car which leads up to Gifu Castle! I was quite nervous about finding my way in Gifu for some reason, sometimes cities can be harder, but I did all right in the end!

Grape Picking in Nabari

Next on my list was Mie Prefecture, which is to the east of Nara Ken. However, most of the cool things to see there are way, way way east, and the train lines there arent superb. And, I guess, there isnt anything too famous, apart from one temple in Ise, which you can't actually see. After chatting with a friend fromLondon Orientation who lives there, I settled on going to Nabari, just over the border. I figured that it would be a nice easy trip. On arrival, however, it seemed that it was actually a lot harder to get around. I wanted to go grape picking, and found a taxi to take me there. I arrived at this little stand in the middle of nowhere, with the taxi driver telling the man "this foreigner wants to pick grapes!" Well....I'm pretty sure there arent many foreigners in this little place! They sure looked surprised! I paid for my ticket, and then the man drove me up to a farm, where he handed me off to a little lady who took my ticket and walked me up to another farm, where she showed me how to pick the grapes. It is more cutting actually. I did feel a bit awkward, sitting alone and picking and eating the grapes, but I enjoyed myself none the less. There were some puppies on the farm I saw and the girl who lived there tried out her English with me. My very small Japanese vocabulary came in handy, and when I was chatting to the girl, I found out that the Japanese really dont eat the skin of the grapes! They thought I was pretty strange! On my way back, I spoke to a nice lady who gave me some grapes for Josh (since he was away at Awa Odori dance festival) and then she had her son give me a ride to the station. It was a pretty awkward day, but I used my Japanese a lot and people were so kind to me!

Okonuin Cemetery, Koyasan

Next on my list of prefectures to visit was Wakayama. I know a lot of people who have visited the famous Koyasan temple town. I tired to go last time when I was up in Nara, but I was pretty sick so I had to cancel my trip. My trains were extremely delayed, making me about 4 hours later getting there than I had intended. Somewhere north of Nara I met a nice German girl who I could talk to, when we were on the train, and then the cable car up onto the mountain. After getting off the cable car, we got on a bus and parted ways. I was only really going to see the big famous cemetery there, although there were a lot more beautiful temples that I could visit when I go back. The cemetery was really beautiful, even in the rain. There were lots of toris all covered in moss, and these big, huge massive trees. But most of all, there was a sense of peace there. In the newer parts of the cemetery, the stones were more extravagent, but the older ones, with their kanji almost blurred off by erosion were my favourite. It was really beautiful and serene and so worth visiting.

Through the nostril

There are a lot of things in Japanese culture which end up with a person getting a year of good luck. One of those is passing through Buddah's nose. Because of the saying, they actually cut a hole into one of the giant pillars that is the same size as Buddah's nostril. It's pretty small, and as a kid, I easily used to fit. Somehow, Josh convinced me that I should give it a go, and that I actually might fit. I wont lie, I was utterly terrified, that scared right down to my feet kind of terrified. I hate being like that, but I knew it was something I really wanted to try. Which was more worrying was the fact I was in a white dress, a decade older than most of the children in a line, and when my turn came up, about 100 people stopped and got their camera out. I think all the cameras pointed at the lone gaijin was probably the scariest! But I made it! I was scared, but I made it! And I will go back and try it again and again, because now I know that I fit!

Todaiji Temple

Heidi was keen to make one last visit to Todaiji Temple, and reasonably so. She was leaving Nara soon, and it is one pretty building. During two nights a year, they wave the entrance fee, and open it up at night. It just so happens that the night that we were there, it was open for free. Last year it must not have been, because I have a really great photo of the outside, and noone was walking inside. Todaiji is pretty special in that it is the largest wooden building in the entire world!It is pretty impressive during the day, but during the evening, it's even prettier. I just had to stop and take some photos, since it seemed so different than when I visited in April, in the midst of cherry blossom season. We wandered inside, and saw the Buddah, which you could go up onto a higher tier and pray if you were Buddist. It seemed quite a popular thing to do. We also looked at the different models of the buildings, and some photos of the different events that they hold throughout the year. Last time I had visited it was Buddah's birthday! Josh really wanted a high five photo with the Buddah, so we set up the shot. I'm not great at lining those things up, so Heidi did it, and got this great photo of my Josh!

Nara Tokae Festival

Last year, when I first arrived, I headed to Nara with the JETs there and we went to the big Obon festival of lights. I didn't know it at the time, but it was called Tokae Festival, and they light up the entire park with pretty little candle lanterns. Some of them are in the shape of kanji, some like a heart, a dear, or what not. We met up with our friend Heidi, who has left JET and was soon heading home. We also met another friend of theirs, who actually dates a girl I met. It was really fun to hang out with them, and wander around one of my favourite places in Japan, Nara Park. I love the hearts and the stars, and Heidi and I took turns posing and taking photos of each other. Most of the grass was full of little lanterns, and it just sparkled! I particularily like the giant kanji in front of the five-tiered pagoda! It just looks perfect! I had to pose in the star, because, well, I'm a physicist and I love stars! I made Josh pose with me in the heart, but he failed at making a heart, taking the mikey out of a coach in the Olympics who also failed to make a heart. You can see the silly clip here : It is basically the story of our relationship - I am always asking him to make a little heart! And usually he does indulge me! We headed over to the big temple, Todaiji, which was open specially for the festival. We had plans to take photos after, but it happened to downpour while we were inside, so we never got any more photos with the lanterns than these! It was a real shame, but we got to see the parts that really mattered. I wish this was done all the time, but I felt so sorry for all the volunteers who had worked so hard and lit all those candles, because it took several hours, and was over in an instant!

Date day at Kyoto Aquarium

After my trip to Obama, I headed home to Josh. I was so happy to see him! He was sweet and took the Monday off of work, and we went together on a date day. :) I picked out a pretty cream dress to wear, and off we went to Kyoto. While we had planned to go to the big Osaka Aquarium, but the Kyoto one only recently opened up, and so we headed there. It was a nice, easy walk from the station. It felt so nice to be back in Kyoto after almost a year! I really just havent been back! When we arrived, the queue was horrific! It was so long, and very hot, but Josh got us some drinks, and we eventually got in to see the aquarium. The main animal at this aquarium, was the Giant Japanese Salamander. We had to fight tooth and nail to see them, and they were really crazy looking! Josh loved them, so I bought a cute postcard to send him later! It was pretty busy, and pretty fun, we saw the main tank, with the sharks, and the giant sting rays that I loved, as well as some cute penguins, and the very cool seals. I was a bit peckish, so we got cute bread shaped like an octopus and a seal and a turtle. They were all frozen, which was a little strange! We then saw some fugu, which are the poisionous puffer fish. I thought that one of the fish was super adorable, and looked like it was smiling! It probably was poisionous though! Then we went and watched the dolphin show. We reserved our seats early on and Josh went and got us more drinks and some popcorn. It was such a lovely date, and perfect with the popcorn. Like a live movie! I was really lucky that Josh took the time off to spend with me. I really am a lucky girl indeed, especially as he was so patient with me taking photos of everything and being a little grumpy at the crowds. But I did really have such a lovely time. It is times like these that I wished I lived closer and we could do these big dates a little more often. And actually make them into a date. But, as my Japanese students say, just one time can make really, perfect, wonderful memories!
Sunday morning I got up and headed to the train station with Sarah and her friend, while Stephanie tried out a new church. I got them directions on where to see stuff in Hiroshima and then headed north. I had an entire week off, thankfully from Obon holidays and a bit of Daikyu. I intended to spend it with Josh, and then just day trip from around there! Josh was busy on the Sunday so I headed up to Fukui. Fukui is kind of like Yamaguchi, really very little there, but I knew that the town of Obama was at least worth visiting, just for the cool coincidental name sharing with the President. Sadly, I couldnt get rid of my bag in a locker anywhere, as small towns only seem to have small lockers. I arrived, and with only an hour to spare, set off in search of something, or anything to see in Obama. I eventually found a harbour, which apparently runs boat tours, but after I had walked the 30 minutes to get there, the only thing I could do was take a few photos and buy some souveniers. I didn't see anything with Obama himself on, although I had heard about it, but the people were very friendly. A teenager who was selling chesnuts gave me some for free, just because I was a foreigner. I bought lots of cute things to send to Shelby (because she loves Obama too) like this magnet with the cat on. I think the cat is the mascot. I ran back for the train, just making it in time. It was a pretty strange and pointless visit, but I was pleased to say I have been there!

Miyajima Fireworks

Once I got my prime spot for the sunset, I was quite reluctant to give up my prime picture spot to head back to the others. So I stopped and stood there for all of the two hours before the fireworks started! They were so amazing, and between each of the firework sections, there was some sort of story told over the speakers. People generally left during each section, so I moved forward as people left a little at a time. By the finale, I was right on the water line, and got these amazing photos! It was totally worth the wait, absolutely worth it. And as much as I was tired, I was more pleased with my photos than anything else! After, I met up with everyone, and we headed home with the crowds. I went back to Hiroshima, and picked up my suitcase, and then headed back to Stephanies to spend the night!

Sunset in Miyajima

My bucket list in Japan is pretty long, really excessively long. One of the ones on my list was to see sunset in Miyajima. I got the perfect spot, along with about 300 other people, but with just enough space to get my head (and my camera) to look at the view. And what a view it was. Some people say a sunset is a sunset, but this just took the biscuit! I couldnt get over how pretty it was! It always seems to me that the sun sets just so quickly, and it always makes me aware of how big and wonderful the world is, but at the same time makes me feel so small!

Hanging in Miyajima

Having only met the new ALTs the day before, I wasn't really sure what to expect. I picked up Karl, who is from Michigan, and Stephanie, who is from California at the station. They both will be living out east, so I probably wont get to see them much. Hence I was keen to get to know them better as we hung out in Miyajima. It was really packed, but I still took Stephanie around the island. Turns out she had been there before, which made it much easier for us to walk around. We bought all sorts of different momijimanjus, the maple leaf shaped treats that are famous from the island. I must say, one of my favourite things to eat EVER, are the cheese filled deep fried ones, so we got those. We also stopped in the Hello Kitty store, which is always fun, and I picked us up some Hello Kitty chocolate ones too! Because of the festival, there were lots of food stalls, and I ended up trying a lemon kakigori (shaved ice), while Stephanie was a little more adventurous! I think she tried some fried squid or something! I think it would be great if I had arrived in Japan with an adventurous stomach!We wandered around, taking photos until I found the perfect place to watch the sunset!